Coresus Sacrificing himselt to Save Callirhoe

Jean-Honore Fragonard
Keywords: CoresusSacrificinghimseltSaveCallirhoe

Work Overview

Coresus Sacrificing himself to Save Callirhoe
The High Priest Coresus Sacrificing Himself to Save Callirhoe
Oil on canvas, 309 x 400 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The picture shows a tapestry cartoon for the Gobelin factory. The tapestry was never executed. It was thanks to this painting that Fragonard was accepted by the Académie as a 'history painter'. He was soon to abandon this type of subject-matter and devote himself to the pleasant, often frivolous paintings for which he is famous.

When Fragonard tackled the history picture - a rare occasion - it, like his other paintings, was animated by love. The large Corésus sacrificing himself to save Callirhoé, shown at the Salon of 1765, is Fragonard's effort to combine his own tendencies with academic requirements. It is not surprising that he exhibited there only once afterwards; this sort of machine was replaced by brilliant, witty decorations, positive riots of cupids and bathers, kissing lips and torn clothes, which always express love in action. The Corésus is negative love, sublime self-sacrifice, and in effect useless passion. Fragonard docs his best to excite the composition, sending waves of smoky clouds and excited winged figures to fill the space between the two pillars not occupied by the strangely feminine priest and the swooning heroine - herself almost as if ravished by love. Perhaps hints from Boucher and Tiepolo worked on Fragonard to emulate the high style for which he was not suited. His genius lay in aiming lower, from an academic standpoint, in being more rational and natural - that is, by being more witty, mischievous, and relaxed.

But in 1765 this was not yet apparent, though perhaps suspected. The whole, high, rococo fabric was toppling. For a moment the painter of the Corésus seemed the man who might keep it still upright. The picture itself was thought by Diderot to have attracted attention less by its own merits than by the need in France to find a successor to the established Carle van Loo and the supposedly promising Deshays, both of whom died that year. Boucher's talent had patently declined. Great painters, Diderot wrote in the same context, 'sont aujourd'hui fort rares en Italie', and the only person he could think of comparing with Fragonard was Mengs. At Venice, Gian Antonio Guardi was dead; Tiepolo was self exiled in Spain; Pittoni, last of the generation of talented practitioners still in the city, was to die in 1768.

In Greek mythology, the name Coresus (Greek: Κόρησος) may refer to:

An autochthon, who, together with Ephesus (son of Cayster), was believed to have founded the sanctuary of the Ephesian Artemis. The Amazons were so closely associated with this sanctuary that, according to Pausanias' remark, Pindar erroneously credited them, and not Coresus and Ephesus, with having founded it.[1] Cayster, father of Ephesus, was thought to have been the son of the Amazon Penthesilea.[2]
A priest of Dionysus in Calydon, who was in love with Callirhoe. The girl would not answer her feelings, so Coresus, in despair, prayed to Dionysus that he may be avenged. The population of the city was then struck with a sort of madness that resembled the state of intoxication, which was lethal to many of them. They consulted the oracle at Dodona as to how to put an end to the calamity; the answer was that they had to propitiate the god by sacrificing either Callirhoe or someone who would consent to die in her stead. No one, and not even Callirhoe's foster parents, would do anything to save her life, so she was brought to the altar. Coresus was to perform the sacrificial rite, but, unable to kill his loved one, he slew himself instead. At the sight of him lying dead, Callirhoe was overcome with remorse and, soon after, cut her throat at a spring that later received her name.