An artist of great elegance, La Hyre was trained by his father and learned not only the fundamentals of painting but of music, mathematics, and architecture—all of which were to find an outlet in his work. After study at Fontainebleau (1622–25), where he copied the work of Primiticcio, he joined the studio of Georges Lallemant (before 1575–1636). His earliest paintings retain a strongly Mannerist flavor, but over the course of the 1630s his mature style emerged, combining naturalism, beauty of color, elegantly choreographed compositions, and architectural settings of rigorous classical design; his landscapes are notable for their pastoral beauty and soft lighting. It has been suggested that the work of Orazio Gentileschi, who was in Paris between 1624 and 1626, was important for the formation of La Hyre’s mature, classicizing style. In 1648 he was among the twelve founding members of the Académie de Peinture et de Sculpture. Although he was highly admired during his lifetime and much in demand for altarpieces and mythological subjects, his reputation declined after his death but has revived during the twentieth century. A major exhibition of his works, with an appraisal of his place in French seventeenth-century painting, took place in Grenoble, Rennes, and Bordeaux in 1988.The Painting:
The Metropolitan’s picture, a masterpiece from the artist’s full maturity, belonged to an important series depicting the Seven Liberal Arts: Grammar (National Gallery, London), Rhetoric (known from a copy in a private collection) and Dialectic (private collection)—what is known as the Trivium—and Arithmetic (Foundation Hannema-de Stuers, Heino), Music (MMA), Geometry (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), and Astronomy (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Orléans)—the Quadrivium. Three of the canvases are dated 1649 and the others 1650. According to the artist’s son Philippe de La Hyre (1640–1718), they decorated a room in the house of Gédéon Tallemant (1613–1668) on rue d’Angoûlmois (now 58 rue Charlot) in the Marais quarter in Paris: "In a house that used to belong to M. Tallemant, Maître des Requêtes, [are] seven paintings showing the seven liberal arts which formed the decoration of a room; the figures are not shown full length; they are life-size and the pictures are decorated with architecture and accompanied by children." The mention of children refers to additional canvases, of which the only ones that survive are those that flanked the MMA painting and show a winged putto playing a viol and another one reading from a sheet of music (Musée Magnin, Dijon; see Additional Images, fig. 1). It seems likely that the series was installed in a wainscoting with the individual canvases separated by moldings or pilasters. The ensemble must have been of great beauty and the series appears to have been replicated for another patron of La Hyre in Rouen (A. J. Dézallier d'Argenville, Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres
, Paris, 1745, vol. 2, p. 274). The Allegory of Music
is perhaps the finest of the extant portions of the Tallemant commission, for a reconstruction of which see Rosenberg and Thuillier 1988.
In devising the allegorical compositions for the various canvases, La Hyre employed as his principal (but not necessarily unique) literary source Jean Baudouin’s 1644 French translation of Cesare Ripa’s standard iconographic manual, the Iconologia
, the first edition of which appeared in 1603. In the Allegory of Music
, La Hyre did not follow Ripa detail by detail but rather employed various of those attributes Ripa mentions. Instead of a full-length figure of a woman writing music with instruments at her feet, he shows a half-length figure, classically garbed, tuning the angelica (or theorbo)—a metaphor for harmony—a key attribute of Music. Ripa mentions the open part-book ("un Liure ouvert"), the lute, viol, and flageolets, or soprano recorders—"to harmonize with her voice"—and, perched on the figure’s chair (rather than on her head, as Ripa would have it), the nightingale, "a true symbol of Music, for the marvelous effects of its voice that charms the listener and that it raises and lowers in all imaginable fashions, as though it knew perfectly the rules of this beautiful Art." The bird was almost certainly intended to contrast the voice of nature (musica naturalis
) with the human voice (musica artificialis
). Additionally, La Hyre shows a bass recorder and a sheet of flageolet tablature, while behind the figure there is a carved organ case—the organ being, itself, an emblem of universal harmony (for an iconographic reading of these instruments, see Frings 1994). The composition was further elaborated by the companion canvases in Dijon showing in one a putto playing a viola da gamba and in the other a putto reading from a sheet of music. (For instruments in the Museum's collection similar to those that La Hyre depicts, see 89.4.915
, and 1988.87
Gédéon Tallemant, a member of the Council of State, is known to us through the writings of his cousin, Tallemant des Réaux, who included a portrait of him in his Historiettes
(ed. A. Adam, 1961, vol. 2, pp. 545–47). Above all, Tallemant is described as a man of pleasure, given to collecting, gambling, drinking, and women. These pastimes are wittily referred to in the music held by the singing putto in the companion canvas. The text of this is a 1647 drinking song by Guillaume Michel, a minor composer whom Tallemant probably knew. The song describes a contest between Bacchus and Eros, Wine and Love, in which Love has lost. The last legible lines read: "Je beniray le jour / Que les jus de la pinte / A noyé mon amour . . . " (I bless the day that the juice of the pint drowned my love). The reference to Wine and Love not only alluded to Tallemant's escapades but also completed the triad often brought together by Ripa and other writers: Music, Love, and Wine.
Three separate pieces are illustrated in the music book before the female figure. Laurence Libin (correspondence in departmental files) has noted that the first is a series of phrases used as practice in the singing of intervals; the second, a lute tablature using a tuning devised by Denis Gaultier about 1635; and the third, a chanson in two parts. The last has not been identified, but it too may be a song by Michel (Greenwald 1987). This combination probably alludes to the threefold division of music into theoretical (the solfeggio exercises), instrumental, and vocal.
[Keith Christiansen 2014]
Philippe de La Hyre. Mémoire pour servir à la vie de Laurent de La Hyre, par Philippe de La Hyre, son fils. [before 1695] [manuscript sent to Félibien (d. 1695) and published in P. J. Mariette, Abecédario, 3, 1854–56, pp. 48–49], observes that "Il y [a] aussi, dans le Marais du Temple [Paris], dans une maison qui appartenoit autrefois à M. Tallement, maistre des requestes, sept tableaux représentant les sept ars libéraux qui font l'ornement d'une chambre; les figures ne sont pas entières; elles sont grandes comme nature, et ces tableaux sont ornés d'architecture et accompagnés d'enfants.".
Georges Guillet de Saint-Georges. Mémoire historique des principaux ouvrages de M. de la Hire. [before 1705] [a lecture to the French Royal Academy delivered some time late in the 17th century, published in L. Dussieux et al., Mémoires inédits sur la vie et les ouvrages des membres de l'Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, 1854, p. 107], observes that La Hyre made seven large paintings of the seven Liberal Arts for M. Tallement, "Les figures grandes comme nature n'y sont qu'à demi-corps, et il les a accompagnées de plusieurs enfants et d'une architecture fort bien entendue".
Antoine Joseph Dézallier d'Argenville. Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres, avec leurs portraits gravés en taille-douce . . . Vol. 2, Paris, 1745, p. 274, notes that La Hyre painted "sept grands tableaux représentant les sept arts libéraux avec des fonds enrichis d'architecture pour la même ville [Rouen]".
Affiches, annonces et avis divers no. 15 (February 21, 1760), p. 116 [see Refs. Rosenberg 1982 and Rosenberg and Thuillier 1988], mention a sale that took place on February 23 "et jours suivants" in the rue du Temple, Paris, which included "Tableaux, entre autres les Arts libéraux, originaux de La Hire de 1649 et 1650 . . ."; the document does not mention the number of paintings by La Hyre sold on this occasion.
P. J. Mariette. Abecedario de P. J. Mariette et autres notes inédites de cet amateur sur les arts et les artistes. Ed. Ph. de Chennevières and A. de Montaiglon. Vol. 3, Paris, 1854–56, pp. 48–49 [this book is based on the unpublished manuscripts of P. J. Mariette (1694–1774) in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris], includes Philippe de la Hyre's biography of his father [see Ref. before 1695], which he had found among the papers of Félibien.
L. Dussieux et al. Mémoires inédits sur la vie et les ouvrages des membres de l'Académie Royal de Peinture et de Sculpture. Paris, 1854, vol. 1, p. 107.
Edmond Bonnaffé. Dictionnaire des amateurs français au XVIIe siècle. Paris, 1884, p. 300, mentions the seven La Hyre paintings of the Liberal Arts owned by Gédéon Tallement.
Charles Sterling. Letters to Theodore Rousseau and Margaretta Salinger. 1950–51, erroneously describes this picture as signed and dated 1648; identifies the subject as Music as one of the Liberal Arts, observing that it is the same height [actually about 9 cm shorter] as Grammar in the Madan collection, London [now National Gallery, London] and as a painting of Arithmetic in the Hannema collection, Rotterdam; notes that Eloquence and Rhetoric are apparently in a Swiss collection, and that these four paintings are all dated 1650; remarks that early descriptions of the seven pictures with Tallement mention that they are accompanied by many children and states that he has found at the Musée Magnin, Dijon, and with a Parisian picture dealer (in 1934) five panels by La Hyre depicting children playing with the attributes of the arts and sciences that must originally have been part of the decorative ensemble; assumes that there were altogether seven or perhaps fourteen pictures with children, one on either side of each of the allegorical figures.
Theodore Rousseau Jr. "A Guide to the Picture Galleries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12, part 2 (January 1954), ill. p. 25.
Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 87–89, ill., notes that an 18th-century writer [see Ref. Dézallier d'Argenville 1745] "mentions a similar set of pictures as 'made for Rouen,' but it is not known whether this is the same set moved from Paris to Rouen or another one"; states that a replica of the London "Grammar" is in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore.
Theodore Rousseau Jr. The Splendid Century: French Art, 1600–1715. Exh. cat.Washington, 1960, supplement, p. 3, no. 171.
Michael Thomas. "The Problems of the Splendid Century." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 19 (April 1961), p. 227, fig. 3, ill.
René Huyghe. Pittura francese del XVII e XVIII secolo. Bergamo, 1962, ill. p. 31 (color).
Thérèse Augarde and Jacques Thuillier. "La Hyre." L'Oeil no. 88 (April 1962), pp. 18, 22–23, ill. (color), incorrectly state that it is dated 1648; publish the two music-making putti in the Musée Magnin, Dijon, which they believe originally belonged on either side of our composition; note that these three elements certainly belonged to the same decorative ensemble—not necessarily that made for the Hôtel Tallemant; mention the other La Hyre allegories of the liberal arts that have come to light, all signed and dated 1650, which seem to have been part of a different cycle.
Eunice Williams. Gods & Heroes: Baroque Images of Antiquity. Exh. cat., Wildenstein & Co., Inc. New York, 1968, unpaginated, mentioned under no. 19 (entry for Geometry, Toledo Museum of Art), includes the Toledo picture among the series made for Tallement.
Pierre-Marie Auzas. "A propos de Laurent de La Hire." Revue du Louvre et des musées de France 18, no. 1 (1968), pp. 11–12, fig. 17, incorrectly claims it is dated 1648; illustrates "Geometry" (Toledo Museum of Art, signed and dated 1649), as one of the allegories made for Tallement, and also an "Astronomy" in a private collection [now Musée des Beaux-Arts, Orléans], which has rather different dimensions; wonders if the latter work belonged to the series of allegories by La Hyre that Guillet de Saint-Georges [see Ref. before 1705] claims were made for Rouen.
A. P. de Mirimonde. "Les allégories de la musique. II.—Le retour de Mercure et les allégories des beaux-arts." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 73 (May–June 1969), pp. 310–11, 316, 323 nn. 39–43, fig. 36 (reproduced as a contiuous composition with the Dijon panels on either side), unequivocally states that the Dijon putti belong with this picture; observes that the figure of Music holds a large theorbo and identifies the instruments on the table as a lute, a violin and two recorders; behind the book of music is the top of a large shawm, or organ stop; describes the music on the left page as a song "a quatre temps" with a lute accompaniment in instrumental notation, and on the right page, a piece for several voices "a trois temps" beginning with the words "c'est a ce coup . . . "; observes that it is impossible to identify the piece of music represented here.
Pierre Rosenberg and Jacques Thuillier. "'The Finding of Moses' by La Hyre." Bulletin of The Detroit Institute of Arts 49, no. 2 (1970), p. 27.
National Gallery. Illustrated General Catalogue. The National Gallery. London, 1973, p. 355.
Pierre Rosenberg and Jacques Thuillier. "Laurent de La Hyre: The Kiss of Peace and Justice." Bulletin of The Cleveland Museum of Art 61 (November 1974), pp. 302, 307 n. 1, as dated 1648; note that "no less than ten La Hyre canvases" under the theme of the Liberal Arts are known, including two representing Arithmetic and Grammar in the Walters Art Gallery, signed and dated 1650.
Edgar Peters Bowron. Letter. June 20, 1975, attaches unpublished catalogue entries for the allegories of Grammar and Arithmetic in the Walters Art Gallery, in which both works are attributed to La Hyre; it is remarked: "That La Hyre did in fact paint two sets of these pictures is attested by the two extant examples of Grammar and Arithmetic".
Laurence Libin. Memo to Mimi Harris. June 2, 1975, notes that the open music book shows three pieces: on the left, a solfege exercise intended to give practice in singing intervals, below that an incomplete lute tablature, and on the right, a chanson in two parts which he cannot identify; suggests that this music represents a three-fold division of the art of music; theoretical (the solfege), instrumental (the lute piece), and vocal (the chanson).
A. P. de Mirimonde. Letter to Mimi Harris. February 15, 1975, identifies the music in one of the Dijon panels as a "chanson à boire" by Guillaume Michel and again observes that the music in our picture cannot be identified; comments that an air for two voices and an air for one voice are represented, and that the tablature (instrumental notation) corresponds to neither one nor the other.
A. P. de Mirimonde. L'iconographie musicale sous les rois bourbons. Paris, 1975, pp. 22–23, pl. 2 (our painting with the Dijon panels), publishes part of the text of the song in the Dijon painting, noting that it is about the rivalry of Bacchus and Eros, and that it was published in Paris in 1647 in Michel's third book of songs.
Jacques Thuillier. Letter [apparently to Toledo Museum of Art]. 1975 [see Ref. Toledo 1976], observes that it is difficult to determine which paintings belonged to each series, and that it is uncertain that any actually belonged to Tallement; adds that it is possible that a third series exists.
The Toledo Museum of Art: European Paintings. Toledo, 1976, p. 90, attribute their picture to Laurent de La Hyre and believe it is part of the Tallement series; cite a letter from Thuillier [see Ref. 1975].
Pierre Rosenberg in Nouvelles acquisitions du musée d'Orléans. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. [Paris], 1976, pp. 48–49, lists ten paintings representing allegories of the Liberal Arts, ascribing them all to La Hyre at one point in his text, but elsewhere commenting on the lesser quality of those in Baltimore and Toledo, and finally calling the two in Baltimore replicas by Louis de La Hyre [Laurent's younger brother]; observes that the existence of an Allegory of Architecture [Heino, The Netherlands; now recognized as the primary version of Arithmetic] suggests that there may have been a third series, and La Hyre may have painted individual works with similar subjects.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 324–25, fig. 583.
Mary O'Neill. Les peintures de l'école française des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles: Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Orléans. Orléans, 1981, vol. 1, p. 86, observes that today we know seven paintings of the Liberal Arts by Laurent de La Hyre "lui-même," excluding Architecture (not one of the Liberal Arts), and the Walters Arithmetic and Grammar, which she calls replicas by Louis de La Hyre.
Pierre Rosenberg. "France in the Golden Age: A Postscript." Metropolitan Museum Journal 17 (1982), pp. 28–29, no. 33, ill. (with putti in Dijon), mentions a document published in 1760 [see Ref. Affiches 1760] that may refer to the sale of the series of allegories commissioned by Tallement from their original site in the Marais district of Paris.
Jean-Pierre Cuzin. "New York: French Seventeenth-century Paintings from American Collections." Burlington Magazine 124 (August 1982), pp. 529–30.
Hugh Brigstocke. "France in the Golden Age." Apollo 116 (July 1982), p. 8, describes it as "a work of complex synthetic elegance".
Pierre Rosenberg. France in the Golden Age: Seventeenth-century French Paintings in American Collections. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1982, pp. 3, 26, 250–51, 354, no. 33, ill. pp. 155, 250, correctly records the inscribed date of 1649; erroneously gives measurements as 94 x 136.5 cm and notes that it "has . . . been established that the New York canvas is slightly cut away on both sides and particularly at the bottom, since the other works in the group measure between 102 and 104 cm in height"; presumably based on these erroneous dimensions, comments that the picture sold in London in 1928 could just as easily be another version of this picture; remarks that "it is conceivable" that there were two sets of Allegories, one made for Tallement, and the other for a collector in Rouen, and proposes that the "somewhat inferior" pictures in Baltimore and Toledo were painted by Louis de La Hyre.
Carl Goldstein. "Museum News: Seventeenth-century French Paintings." Art Journal 42 (Winter 1982), p. 331.
A. Brejon [de Lavergnée] in Conservation et restauration: Peintures des musées de Dijon. Paris, 1983, pp. 7, 56, ill. (with Dijon putti).
Helen Greenwald. "Laurent de La Hire's 'Allegory of Music': Antiquity Updated." RIdIM Newsletter 12 (Spring 1987), pp. 2–11, ill. on cover and fig. 4 (details) and fig. 1 (with Dijon putti), observes that the opening words of the song in the music book in our picture, "C'est a ce coup," which she translates as "It is with this drink," suggest a relationship with the text in the Dijon putto's drinking song [see Refs. Mirimonde, 1968 and 1975], and the possibility of Michel's authorship.
Pierre Rosenberg and Jacques Thuillier. Laurent de La Hyre, 1606–1656: L'homme et l'oeuvre. Exh. cat., Musée de Grenoble. Geneva, 1988, pp. 14, 18, 292–94, 296–97, no. 259, ill. p. 293 (with Dijon putti), and in color, pp. 28 and 297 (overall and detail), believe La Hyre produced a single set of Liberal Arts paintings, to which our Allegory belonged; remark that neither Guillet [Refs. before 1705] nor Philippe de La Hyre [Refs. before 1695] mention a similar series made for Rouen and conclude that the seven Liberal Arts that Dézallier [Ref. 1745] mentions as made for Rouen were most likely the result of a lapse or confusion in his notes; consider the Toledo and two Baltimore paintings copies, not necessarily from a homogeneous group; identify our picture as the one in the 1908 Conyngham sale, and observe that the entire decoration was sold, probably from its original site in the Marais in 1760 [see Ref. 1760]; suppose that the paintings of putti like those at the Musée Magnin were originally installed at either end of the three longer paintings (Music, Geometry and Astronomy); note that no trace remains of the three other sets of putti mentioned by Sterling as on the Paris art market in 1934 [see Ref. 1950–51]; give incorrect measurements for our picture of 94 x 136.5 cm and conclude that it must have been cut about 10 cm in height.
Guy Boyer. "L'exposition La Hyre: La rhétorique de l'image." Beaux Arts Magazine no. 65 (February 1989), p. 42, ill. pp. 38–39 (color).
Barbara Scott. "Letter from Paris: Homage to Laurent de La Hyre." Apollo 129 (April 1989), pp. 280–81, ill. (color).
Andrea Bayer in Keith Christiansen. A Caravaggio Rediscovered: The Lute Player. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1990, pp. 41, 76, 82–84, no. 19, ill., notes that the last legible lines in the songbook read "Je beniray le jour/Que les jus de la pinte/A noyé mon amour (I bless the day that the juice of the pint drowned my love) and remarks that the reference to Wine and Love not only allude to to the escapades for which Tallemant was known, but "also complete the triad often brought together by Ripa and other writers: Music, Love, and Wine—elements found also in Caravaggio's 'Musicians,' which La Hire knew firsthand".
Laurence Libin in Keith Christiansen. A Caravaggio Rediscovered: The Lute Player. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1990, pp. 84–86, notes that the top portion of a shawm is shown leaning against the table, partly supporting the open music book, but its double reed is unfortunately indistinct; identifies the two instruments on the table as flageolets and suggests that they form an iconographic link between the natural and artifical musics represented respectively by the nightingale and the notated scores; observes that the large lute held by Music, strung with single rather than double courses, was known as an angelica or angelique, and that the act of tuning represents the birth of concord.
Humphrey Wine et al. "Laurent de La Hyre's 'Allegorical Figure of Grammar'." National Gallery Technical Bulletin 14 (1993), pp. 22, 24–26, 29, cite incorrect dimensions for our painting of 94 x 136.5 cm; believe the copies were made while the originals were still in the studio; note that Gédéon Tallement's mother, Anne de Rambouillet, was from a wealthy Rouen family and wonders if a second group of pictures might have been made by a member of La Hyre's studio for someone in her family; discusses the possible arrangement of the decorative cycle in the home of Tallement.
Gabriele Frings. "Ut Musica Pictura: Laurent de La Hyre's 'Allegory of Music' (1649) as a Mirror of Baroque Art and Music Theory." Gazette des beaux-arts 123 (January 1994), pp. 13–28, ill., figs. 1 and 4 (without and with Dijon putti), believes the flanking putti were "only given to Music," as the other two allegories of similar size, Astronomy and Geometry, are complete in themselves; states that Music tunes a Theorbo/Angelica; discusses the picture's iconography and its relation to earlier representations of the subject.
Joël Dugot. "Approche iconographique du théorbe en France, 1650–1700." Musique · Images · Instruments no. 2 (1996), pp. 178–79, ill. p. 176, closely examines the theorbo held by Music, discussing its characteristics in great detail; notes that it is not an artist's prop, but an instrument that was truly played in France at the time.
Alain Mérot. Eloge de la clarté: Un courant artistique au temps de Mazarin 1640–1660. Exh. cat., Musée Magnin, Dijon. Paris, 1998, pp. 48, 99–100, no. 32, ill. (black and white and in color; exhibited and illustrated with the putti from Musée Magnin), believes that Music was originally displayed as a triptych.
Humphrey Wine. National Gallery Catalogues: The Seventeenth Century French Paintings. London, 2001, pp. 188, 191–92.
Jean-Pierre Cuzin in Keith Christiansen and Judith W. Mann. Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi. Exh. cat., Museo del Palazzo di Venezia, Rome. New York, 2001, p. 210.
Stephen D. Borys. The Splendor of Ruins in French Landscape Painting, 1630–1800. Exh. cat., Allen Memorial Art Museum. Oberlin, Ohio, 2005, p. 170, ill., compares its scale and setting with Vouet's "The Muses Urania and Calliope" (National Gallery of Art, Washington) of 1634.
Pierre Rosenberg. Only in America: One Hundred Paintings in American Museums Unmatched in European Collections. Milan, 2006, p. 94, ill.
Jean-Pierre Cuzin. Figures de la réalité: Caravagesques français, Georges de La Tour, les frères Le Nain . . . [Paris], 2010, pp. 45, 164, reprints Cuzin 1982 and 2001.
"Newly Acquired Painting by La Hyre a First for the Museums." Fine Arts (Fall 2014), p. 26.
J. Kenneth Moore, Jayson Kerr Dobney, and Bradley Strauchen-Scherer. Musical Instruments: Highlights of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2015, p. 88, ill. p. 88 and on cover (color, overall and detail).