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Exhibit Catalog to the Morris County Historical Society's "Out of the Closet" Exhibition

Paris and Oenone

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Angelica Kauffman (artist)

Francesco Bartelozzi (engraver)
Paris and Oenone
Circa 1781
Hand-colored engraving on paper
5 3/4 x 7 1/4 in.
 
 
 
 

The Story

 

 

Heroides V

by Ovid - 4-8 A.D.

 

In Ovid's Heroides V, Oenone writes a letter to her former husband Paris, the man who abandoned her for the beautiful Helen. She begins the letter with the line, “Will you read this through? Or does your new wife forbid it?” The letter's introduction states that Oenone is the injured party and that Helen is not only an unsavory individual, but she is also a foreigner. It is interesting to note that she does not discount the idea of Paris returning to her.

 

Oenone then reminisces about their life together. She reminds him of her higher status by lamenting the fact that she endured to marry a "slave" - alluding to the fact that Paris was merely a shepherd's servant, while she was a nymph. She recalls his carving her name into the trunk of a tree, and promising that he would also be with her - and if he broke his promise, the waters of the river Xanthius would flow backwards. Oenone now calls on the river to make good on Paris's oath.

 

She recalls the dreaded Judgment of Paris - when Zeus was to award a golden apple to the fairest among Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena, he deferred his judgment to Paris. When Aphrodite promised him the most beautiful woman in the world, Paris eagerly accepted and awarded her the golden apple. She remembers when Paris left her for Sparta (to take home the fair Helen), and reminds him that he had tears in his eyes, and asks him not to deny it. Oenone recounts her own grief as she watched Paris's ship come home with Helen clinging to his side.

 

She then goes into a full-scale attack on Helen, calling her a "shameful lover" instead of his "new wife." She claims that Menelaus - Helen's Spartan husband - is justified in bringing war to Troy, in order to get his wife back. Oenone warns that Helen will never stay faithful to Paris, as she has already abandoned her first husband for him.

 

Oenone tells of Cassandra's (Paris's sister who was cursed with the "gift" of prophecy after she spurned Apollo's advances) prophetic prediction that war would come to Troy, over the abduction of Helen. She then admits that many others - including Apollo himself - have desired Oenone, but she has always remained faithful to Paris. The gift that Apollo gave to her - that of healing - is no match for her broken heart. She begs him to have pity on her asks to be his once more.

 

 

 

Paris and Oenone: A Tragedy in One Act

By Lawrence Binyon – 1906

Based upon Quintus Smyrnaeus’s Posthomerica, book X.259-489 (4th century A.D.)

 

Note: Due to the painting's 18th century date, Kauffman would have certainly based her painting on the Smyrnaeus's book, not the Binyon play.

 

 

When the play opens, Oenone weeps over the fact that Paris, her former love, left her for the beautiful Helen of Troy. Paris staggers in, wounded by Philoctetes’ poisoned barb and begs for her to heal him with her herbs, for she is well known as a healer. Still angry that he abandoned her, Oenone refuses to help and leaves him to die. With his two attendants by his side, Paris laments his fate and disappears into the woods. Oenone, who has had a change of heart, runs in looking for Paris, ready to tell him that she has an herb that could save his life. She instead finds Helen, who is out looking for Paris as well. Oenone tells Helen that she will give her the herb as long as Paris’s life is saved, but it is too late: a funeral pyre with Paris’s body on it comes into view. Oenone, crazed with grief, runs to the pyre in order to throw herself on it, as Helen looks on in horror.

 

 

The engraving

 

This colored engraving of Paris and Oenone shows the pair as a young, happy couple, back when Paris was still a shepherd boy (or a servant to a shepherd, if we are to believe Ovid's Oenone) and had not yet abandoned Oenone for Helen of Troy. In the picture he holds her arm lovingly as he carves their names into the bark of a tree, just as Ovid's Oenone recalls. At the bottom of the engraving are the words:

 

"When Paris lives not to Oenone true

Back Xanthius' steams shall to their fountains flow.

- Ovid epist. V"

 

Paris's promise is set next to a time when he was faithful to his wife Oenone. But we as viewers know that his oath will soon be broken and chaos in the Greek world will ensue. Because of our foreknowledge, the oath seems more like a terrible warning than a promise made in a moment of passion.

 

 

 

The Artist: Angelica Kauffman

 

Angelica Maria Anna Katarina Kauffman was born in Chur, Switzerland, in 1747 into the family of the painter Johann Joseph Kauffman, who gave her an excellent education in the arts. Angelica was very gifted, demonstrating brilliant painting skills, a talent for music, a superb memory and an amazing capacity for languages.

 

Between 1742 and 1757, the family lived in Italy, where J. J. Kauffman had found patronage, moving between Milan, Venice, Naples and Florence. As early as 1754, at the age of 12, Angelica was helping her father with his work on frescoes and portraits.

 

In 1766, Kauffman accompanied Lady Wentworth to England, where her portraits of the nobility were a great success. Under the influence of English romantic literature she executed paintings of subjects from Alexander Pope and Laurence Sterne. Kauffman also tried her hand at classical subjects, depicting scenes from Homer's Illiad and Odyssey, and Virgil's Aeneid.

She lived in London until 1781 and became the first woman in England to be admitted to the Royal Academy. From 1781 till 1807 she lived and worked in Rome. Her studio was the most famous in the city, and a gathering place for notable poets, artists and thinkers of the day.

 

Unlike many female artists of the period, Kauffman was very popular and wealthy in her time. She painted allegorical, mythological and historical subjects, as well as subjects from literature and portraits. They are mostly treated in the sentimental fashion of the 18th century. The works of Kauffman were widely known in Europe due to engravings by other artists.

Kauffman died in 1807, in Rome. She was buried in a lavish funeral procession, the greatest for any artist since the death of Raphael, some three centuries prior.

 

 

 

 

The Engraver: Francesco Bartolozzi

 

(b. Venice, 1727 - d. London, 1815)

 

Francesco Bartolozzi began his career making engravings after the Italian masters. In 1764, he was invited to London to engrave after the Guercino drawings in the Royal Collection.

 

A new printmaking process had recently been developed in London at this time and although, Francesco Bartolozzi could not claim its invention, his name is forever linked with the 'Stipple' engraving. Briefly, a stipple engraving is created by employing a multitude of flicks or dots rather than the lines used in etching or engraving. The higher the density of dots in an area the darker the plate will print and therefore, the stipple is a tonal as opposed to a linear method, producing light and dark contrasts. This print of Paris and Oenone is an example of a "stipple" engraving.

 

Francesco Bartolozzi quickly recognized that this very demanding method of original printmaking was best suited for decorative works and portraits and scenes displaying flesh tones. He thus set up his famous London workshop which published renderings of either sentimental or mythological subjects, with such well known painters as Francis Wheatly, Angelica Kauffmann, Cipriani and Diana Beauclerk specifically creating designs for him to engrave.

 

Francesco Bartolozzi's success with the stipple was enormous. He was one of the first engravers granted a full membership to the Royal Academy, and in the last decades of the eighteenth century, a large following of English and transplanted Italian students sat in his studio to learn his techniques. Stippling, however, was destined to live a very short life. It was extremely laborious and time consuming and soon gave way to the more convenient and mass produced forms of printmaking in the nineteenth century.