Warriors and Builders


Full image.


Full image.


Full image.




Unidentified artist
French, 16th century
after Léon Davent
French, active ca. 1540–1560
Venus and Cupid
Pallas Athena
Membership Purchase Fund


These three engravings are copies of etchings made by Léon Davent, in turn after designs by Francesco Primaticcio, one of François I’s court artists at Fontainebleau. Part of a series of twelve prints depicting the nine muses and the three major female Olympian goddesses, these designs were probably intended for the decoration of the Appartement des Bains, the royal bath chambers, a series of rooms which ran directly beneath the frescoed Gallery of François I in the royal palace at Fontainebleau. It is likely that this series of pictures of reclining women, some quite scantily clad, were considered appropriate for the sensuous atmosphere of the baths.


But in addition, the artistic grace of the muses, along with Juno’s wisdom, Athena’s learning, and Venus’s beauty, would have presided over a great collection of art installed in the bath chambers. Unbelievably, in this warm, damp environment hung François’s prized collection of paintings by all the great Italian masters, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian—including the Mona Lisa herself. It was only in the early 17th century, when many great works had already deteriorated beyond recognition, that François’s collection was moved to more suitable housing in the Louvre, where it formed the core of one of the greatest museum collections in the world. Fortunately, the Mona Lisa survived her stay in François’s bath house. Aside from their relation to the Appartement des Bains, however, these engravings show us that while the initial output of etchings from Fontainebleau was experimental and not produced for sale, the popularity of these etchings soon made selling copies of them profitable. This is how Primaticcio’s images for the decoration of walls came to be marketed by an unknown publisher as a “set” of goddesses and muses, each with careful attribution to Primaticcio at Fontainebleau, and a Latin inscription labeling each deity.