Pierre Puget
Biography of French Baroque Sculptor Noted for Milo of Crotona.

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Perseus and Andromeda (1684)
Intended for Versailles Palace.
Now in the Louvre, Paris.

Pierre Puget (1620-94)

One of the greatest Baroque sculptors in 17th century France, Pierre Paul Puget was also a painter, decorator of ships and draughtsman. Shaped by the Italian Baroque, Puget's style of Baroque sculpture was ahead of his time and did not always find favour with the classical style of the French Court. He was one of the very few sculptors outside Italy to recapture the immediacy of Bernini's best work, yet in his home country - where art was controlled by Charles Le Brun and Jean-Baptiste Colbert, neither of whom liked Puget - he was regarded as a classical sculptor and later as an ancestor of romanticism.

These differing views confirm his creative talents and complement the fact that his sculpture reflects a full awareness of Michelangelo (1475-1564), Giambologna (1529-1608) and Bernini (1598-1680) as well as antiquity. Now seen as one of the great French Baroque artists, his famous sculptures include St Sebastian (1663-68, marble, Church of Santa Maria Assunta di Carignano, Genoa), Milo of Crotona (1682, Louvre) and Perseus and Andromeda (1684).

SCULPTURE (1600-1850)
Juan Martines Montanes (1568-1649)
Francois Duquesnoy (1597-1643)
Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654)
Alonzo Cano (Granada, 1601-1667)
Francois Girardon (1628-1715)
Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720)
Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721)
Balthasar Permoser (1651-1732)
Andreas Schluter (1664-1714)
Guillaume Coustou (1677-1746)
Louis-Francois Roubiliac (1695-1762)
Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714-1785)
Etienne Maurice Falconet (1716-1791)
Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783)

For details of the origins and
development of the plastic arts
see: History of Sculpture.

See: Greatest Sculptures Ever.

See: Greatest Sculptors.


Puget was born in Marseille; his father was a master mason. Puget was largely self-taught, at least in the rudiments of stone sculpture, as were his brothers who also became artists. In 1634 Puget was apprenticed to Jean Roman, who taught him more about plastic art, especially wood carving. Four years later Puget headed for the artistic Mecca of his time, Italy, and spent many years in Rome and Florence. He worked mainly with Pietro da Cortona, painter and stuccoist, whose main project was to decorate the Palazzo Pitti (Florence). Puget's role in this decoration is not clear.

In the early 1640s Puget returned to France and worked at the Toulon Arsenal, France's largest naval shipyard. Here he was hired by the wood-carving workshop designing and supervising the decoration of ships (including Le Magnifique). According to some documents, Puget returned to Italy in 1646 for one year, accompanying his brother who was commissioned to copy antiquities in Rome.


First Sculpture Commissions

Many of Puget's best works, both sculptures and paintings were created from the 1650s onwards. Some of his sculptures from the earlier part of this period include The Stoning of St Peter (c.1654, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Marseille) and the door of the Hotel de Ville at Toulon (1656, marble, Musee Navale, Toulon). The latter was his first important commission - the general scheme of the door design was already well in use in Italy, but Puget shows great originality with his figures. The movement of his figures is far more Baroque than anything in Parisian tradition at the time. Other works include Hercules Standing (c.1660, terracotta, Staatliche Museen, Berlin) and Hercules at Rest (1661, marble, Louvre, Paris). The heroic figure of Hercules played an important role in 17th and 18th century France, as legend claimed that the Trojan Hercules had been the tenth king of the Gaul, and many French Kings wished to be associated with his strength.



Puget tended to prefer sculpture to fine art painting. Many of his paintings were in fact portraits but demonstrated, in a typical Baroque manner, a clever use of light (chiaroscuro). Some of his surviving paintings include - Portrait of the Artist's Mother (1651-55, Private collection, Nimes); St Peter Holding the Key of the Paradise (1653-59, Parish Church, Grandcamp); The Sacrifice of Noah (1654, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Marseille); Self-portrait (1668-69, Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence); Self-portrait in Old Age (1690-92, Louvre Museum, Paris) and The Education of Achilles by Chiron (c.1690, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Marseille). Puget put aside his paint brush permanently in 1665, ostensibly on the advice of his doctor after a prolonged illness.


Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to judge artists like the French Baroque sculptor Pierre Puget, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. For later works, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.


In the mid 1660's Puget spent some time in Genoa, and received commissions to decorate the Church of Santa Maria Assunta di Carignan. The first of these was St Sebastian (1663-68), a marble statue which critics acclaimed came close to that work of Bernini. However, in comparison to the more dramatic Benini, whose characters physically reached out to the viewer, Puget's were a little more contained in their physical space. It is Puget's rejection of full-on Baroque art that distinguishes his work from that of Bernini.

In 1671, following his return to France in 1667, he began work on the Milo of Crotona (1671-82, Louvre), a marble sculpture which was to be the only one of his works to be accepted for the Palace of Versailles. The figure of Milo owes a good deal to the celebrated Laocoon and His Sons (42-20 BCE, Vatican Museums), but at the same time its composition remains more formal than the earlier baroque. The suggested movement in the work is contained within a structure of parallel lines rather than curves, lending an effect of restraint to the figure, and increasing the feeling of inner anguish. This impressive duality of the work - emotional power within a classical framework - explains how Puget was praised both for his baroque style, and also for his classical 'correctness'.

Puget's other works from this period of his career include: Philosopher (1662, marble, Museum of Art, Cleveland); Assumption of the Virgin (1664-65, marble, Staatliche Museen, Berlin); Immaculate Conception (c.1665, marble; Oratorio di San Filippo Neri, Genoa); Alessandro Sauli (c.1666, terracotta, private collection); Blessed Alessandro Sauli (c.1668, marble, Church of Santa Maria Assunta di Carignano, Genoa).

Last Years

In 1685 Puget returned to Marseille and continued to work on a series of commissions. He created a group statue of The Rape of Helen of Troy (1683-86, bronze, Institute of Arts, Detroit) - a composition he was to repeat several times - showing influences of Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna. This particular statue is considered one of his most significant pieces of bronze sculpture.

He also produced medallions including Louis XIV (c.1688, marble medallion, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Marseille). Puget was particularly skilled in portrait busts and the following are some of his best surviving works: Bust of Marcus Aurelius (c.1680s, marble, Museo di Sant'Agostino, Genoa); Bust of Young August (c.1680s, marble, Museo di Sant'Agostino, Genoa); Christ Dying on the Cross (terracotta, Louvre); Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (1666-70, marble, Chiesa della SS. Concezione, Genoa); Salvator Mundi (marble, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Marseille); and Homer (c.1693, marble, Academy of Sciences, Lyon). Puget also carved numerous works of relief sculpture, including his most famous The Meeting of Alexander the Great and Diogenes (1671-89, Louvre).

Puget died in Marseille in 1694. He spent his final years embittered by his sense of rejection by the authorities - notably Jean-Baptiste Colbert (Louis XIV's chief minister) and Charles Le Brun (1619-90), the effective dictator of visual arts in France - and by a series of political battles at court. A brilliant sculptor, considerably ahead of his time, he also had an intractable and arrogant temperament. His works can be found in churches as well as some of the best art museums and sculpture gardens around the world.

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