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The Four Ages of Love

With some frequency, gender painting seems to transcend the field of visual arts to reflect changes in social behaviors.

With some frequency, gender painting seems to transcend the field of visual arts to reflect changes in social behaviors. Singeries, for example, aim to laugh and criticize customs while the chinoiserie pretends to create an exquisite world of reverie. In the case of Fête galante, it is about portraying the courtship. More precisely, the courtship of civilized society.

The painter of Fête galante, looking for success, commits himself to spread this modern taste. At the same time that Nicolas Lancret carried out the set of paintings representing The Four Ages of Life, he requested that Nicolas Larmessin reproduce them in engravings, to reach a wider audience, informed through the specialized journals.

Adolescência. Great Lisbon Workshop. Joaquim Brito e Silva, c. 1760. © Arquivo do Ecomuseu Municipal do Seixal
Adolescence. Great Lisbon Workshop. Joaquim Brito e Silva, c. 1760. © Arquivo do Ecomuseu Municipal do Seixal.

In July 1735, the Mercure de France favorably presented the new creation of the painter:

These are the four ages characterized by their amusements: the childhood games, the emerging coquetterie of adolescence, the gallantry of youth, and the conversation of the elders… In the cleaver choice of characters and their gentle and delicate expressions, they offer only pleasant objects. We always recognize the taste of Mr. Lancret, whose agreeable talent has so far won public applause.

Adolescence. Nicholas Larmessin after Nicolas Lancret, 1735. © Rijskmuseum
Adolescence. Nicholas Larmessin after Nicolas Lancret, 1735. © Rijskmuseum.

To explain the theme of the pictures, some verses accompanied the engravings. In adolescence, the ladies are dressing elegantly, preparing for a pleasant evening. The youngest begin to be aware of the rules of the amorous conquer:

As long as the light of reason enlightens us,/ forces us to conquer pleasure and honor./ We try to beautify ourselves and study to become pleasant./ Our happiness depends on the others’ looks.

If, in the beginning, in the work of Antoine Watteau, romance is fugitive, seductive, and, at times, melancholic, in the paintings of Lancret, is part of human nature and has already found their proper place in each stage of life. As the panel now on display at the Ecomuseu of Seixal demonstrates, to match the wishes of the Portuguese clientele, the tile painters were called upon to reproduce the works of the French painter. They did so, obviously, to participate in the modernity of this new cultural genre.

ESSENTIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY

MANGUCCI, Celso. “As gravuras de Nicolas Lancret e os azulejos da Quinta da Trindade, no Seixal ” in Al-madan, n. 13, 2005, pp. 113-118. ISSN 0871-066X.

Seixal, Ecomuseu Municipal do Seixal

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