Completely overlooked till now

Watteau’s “ Cythera ” Group

in Ridinger’s Work

Ridinger, Johann Elias (Ulm 1698 – Augsburg 1767). The Cythera Lady (“Impudent but yet Gallant [regarding ’Gallant’ see the explanation further below]”). Coquettish grande dame in three-quarter figure to the right, draped as richly as sophisticatedly up to pear jewels and gown falling three-dimensionally mussel-shaped, dancing with the arms spread in deeply staggered landscape with the opened right downright reaching for the ripe grapes on the left as an art-historical symbol of fertility following psalm 128,3. In the background a two-master lies under sails before the coast of a mountainous landscape. Mezzotint. Inscribed: I. El. Ridinger excud. A. V. 19¼ × 14 in (48.8 × 35.4 cm).

Johann Elias Ridinger, The Cythera Lady

Schwarz (1910) 1471 & plate II, XXX; Count Faber-Castell (1958), 162.

Not in Thienemann (1856) & Stillfried (1876) , Weigel, Art Stock Catalog, pts. I-XXVIII (1838/57; more than 1000 R.-sheets of the engraved/etched work) , Silesian Ridinger Collection at Boerner (1885; “of greatest richness … many rarities”) , Coppenrath Collection (1889/90) , R. collection at Wawra (1890; besides 234 drawings 600 prints) , Reich auf Biehla Collection (1894; “Of all [R. collections on the market] since long time there is none standing comparison even approximately with the present one in respect of completeness and quality … especially the rarities and undescribed sheets present in great number”; 1266 sheet plus 470 duplicates & 20 drawings) , R. catalog Helbing (1900; 1554 nos.) , R. list Rosenthal (1940; 444 nos.).

Mounted by old at the corners on especially wide-margined buff laid paper which is slightly browned at two outer margins. – Right with tiny paper margin, otherwise mostly trimmed to platemark. – Caption in German-Latin the motto of which till now served as title due to not understanding the contents of the picture :

Impudent but yet gallant .

Impudence herself dances here , and is yet called gallant .
Wrong name makes the vices only known .

The wonderful sujet inspired by Watteau’s Cythera works

overlooked by literature till now.

“ Cerigo , the old Cythera — hallowed to Aphrodite ,

since here the goddess should have gone ashore. Her cult just as that of Adonis spread from here over the (Greek) mainland … Cerigo passed for the key of Peloponnesus ” (Meyers Konversations-Lexikon).

The brilliant impression of best condition

of a cultivated collection of perfectly bright chiaroscuro in all parts. And in such a manner of quite extraordinary rarity not only on the market as quoted above, but in general, too. Already in 1675 the expert von Sandrart numbered “clean prints” of the velvety mezzotint manner at only c. “50 or 60” (!). “Soon after (the picture) grinds off for it not goes deeply into the copper.” Correspondingly Thienemann in 1856 :

“ The mezzotints are almost not to be acquired on the market anymore …
and the by far largest part (of them)
… (I have) only found (in the printroom) at Dresden. ”

Not even there then the one here

which subsequently remained unknown to Count Stillfried 20 years later, too!

Thematically of supreme charm

it is Ridinger’s autonomously treated recourse to that group in the work of the contemporary of his early years which reckons in its time and from then till today to the most admired paintings in art history, to

Antoine Watteau’s

(Valenciennes 1684 – Nogent-sur-Marne 1721)


with the Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera (the Ionian island Cerigo as the lover’s isle of Greek mythology) of the Louvre as the primus inter pares by which Watteau reached his admission to the Académie on Saturday, August 28, 1717, “as painter of the ‘fête galante’” as the original title Le pélerinage à l’isle de Cithère was correctingly re-titled in the record of the session. It is

“ (t)he work which unites all qualities of W.’s art ”

(Jahn 1957). Of equal standing The Embarkation to Cythera in Berlin as the supposedly last Watteau acquisition by Frederick the Great (between 1752 and 1765) whose purchase from the Hohenzollern for 15 million marks in the past early ’80s was then as spectacular as cheap from today’s point of view. Listed as replica only by literature for long “The differences between the two versions (are) numerous”. Early predecessor of both is The Isle of Cythera from 1709, also purchased in the early ’80s for the Städel in Frankfort/Main, “an upbeat … the first idea for the celebrated works in the Louvre and in Berlin”.

“ For almost a century one tried to identify the literary or graphic sources which might have inspired Watteau, and to find out up to which grade he transferred and interpreted them. One understand well why the Frankfort painting attracts the attention of the experts that much as it is the indispensable initial step to understanding and interpretation of the two embarkations. Louis de Fourcaud (1904) identified the literary source which is generally accepted till today: ‘Les trois Cousines’ (1700; see on this further below and Ridinger’s The Lady with the Black Mask), a comedy in three acts by Dancourt (1661-1725). This ‘village story, livened up by interludes’, was newly staged by the Comédie Française in 1709 … The pictorial sources of the work are less visible … Nevertheless there is a definite (and famous) source: Watteau borrowed the idea of the pilgrimess … from the love garden by Rubens … ”

Contrary to the handed down literary source repeated by Pierre Rosenberg François Moureau’s contribution (Watteau in his Time) at the same place, see ending (pp. 469 ff. and here especially p. 500) opens a differing point of view :

“ For a long time one stuck doggedly to search in the direction of the Comédie-Française and the Trois Cousines … Actually the Isle of Cythera in Watteau’s work develops from quite different sources, originating from the fair and the Opéra in the first years of the second decade of the century, about between 1710 and 1715. Before and after this moment shippings to Cythera are decidedly rare on the stages of Paris. It seem unnecessary to emphasize how much this simple fact elucidates the (3) works painted by Watteau … in the full rapture of the cytherian plays. This fashion was started by the fair in a time in which it imitated the great opera stage with the Opéra comique that light-heartedly. In fact the origin of the theme lies in the theatre at the court and in the city, that was previously created at the Opéra … ”

Otherwise, and this has to be taken up again for Ridinger’s Cythera Lady, there also is no common opinion if the Louvre painting – and analogously the one in Berlin – represents a leaving to or a return from the island. Ultimately both are “just as much a ‘Pilgrimage’ as an allegory. The island itself is a ‘non lieu’, a place thought (Schefer, 1962). The painting is both inaction and action, a moment in the time and timeless”.

“ And so Watteau has wanted it (what explains the great success of his painting). The ‘Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera’, which was painted fast, but ripened slowly, represents an ambiguous work that gave and still gives rise to interpretations which might look contradictory, but in reality complement one another.

Its extraordinary fascination

for the Painters

(Turner, Monet), and the poets (Verlaine), the musicians (Debussy) and the writers (Proust), and in the farest sense for the public, cannot be explained else …

(And explains simultaneously, for what reason in our days with Theo Angelopoulos’ masterwork, the “Voyage to Cythera”, there is also still a film on the theme, see Andreas Kilb in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of July 12, 2005.)

Can one insist based on these changes that the paintings in the Louvre and in Berlin do not represent the same scene, that accordingly to the different current interpretations this scene should be a departure to the Isle of Cythera, a departure from Cythera, or an allegory of the erotic poetry and gallant plays? A single author, Claude Ferraton (1975) … makes this hypothesis his own. For him the painting in the Louvre is a ‘Departure for Cythera’, that in Berlin plays on the island … He says (also from this a reference to Ridinger arises) that the missing mountains in the background can be explained only by the scene happening on the island. But for him especially the painting in Paris represents the future love, the ideal, the dreamt love, that in Berlin the consummate love after which one can do nothing but go home. ”

Both the paintings in Frankfort as in Berlin were engraved in 1730 and 1733 resp. for the Recueil Jullienne as Watteau’s complete edition published by the friend and collector Jean de Jullienne. And doubtless this gallery work served Ridinger for his works after Watteau, so also for Thienemann-Stillfried 1396/97 and Schwarz 1464/65, Schwarz 1458 (supposedly more correctly only indirectly with, see currently here per 28,407) + 1460 (28,403) which he copied by no means slavishly (as at least 1397 could convey to the only inattentive look), from which he just borrowed a detail in cases (1460 and, quite conditionally only, 1458) or, according to the current knowledge here at least, was just inspired by these as in the case of the Cythera Lady here, at which only for information should be suggestive also of Thienemann’s reference to the set of the Four Seasons 1181/84 (available their second version Th. 1193/96) the first three stations of which represented by ladies of rising age, after which Ridinger has quoted in this connection “from the works of (Hyacinthe) Rigaud (1659-1743) and other French portraitists”. For the Cythera Lady is in no way their sister. She stands for fire and temptation.

Yet his Cythera Lady is also neither taken from Watteau’s three Cythera paintings nor from his Coquettes in Petersburg likewise published in print in the Recueil Jullienne of which one, the one with the mask, also plays into the Cythera theme and who Ridinger borrowed thematically autonomously for his Lady with the Black Mask. And via this the coquette of “Impudent but yet Gallant” (“gallant” quite in the wording of sources + literature: “come and be witness of our gallant parties”; “Watteau’s gallant ships”;

“ Cythera is an idealization of the new ‘gallant’ style

of aristocratic life”) reveals herself actually only, though consequently. For from the intensive occupation with Watteau substantiated in such a way and going beyond Stillfried/Schwarz’ 4-sheet set above, here lately proven for Schwarz 1460, too, the question about the sense of the ship in the background arises by itself. Which Watteau’s work answers readily.

Together also not answering the question at which station of the journey the lady has to be seen. In regard of the mountains raising behind the ship the island only should be visited according to the interpretation above. However: the lady turns her back to the ship and the scenical voluptuousness of the foreground with the dominating vine bearing full grapes as synonym for Bacchus who is that important in the sources offer the impression of happiness on the island, for which she stands by herself, too. And both during the departure of the Louvre painting and during the supposed forthcoming return of that in Berlin the groups are predominantly placed at the water, they look more or less at it and in the case of the Berlin picture at the ship, too. Only the painting in Frankfort

gives the impression beyond of departure and return .

That is the destination itself, the joyful enjoyment.

Accordingly the dominating central group is turned to the beholder. Quite as Ridinger’s now Cythera Lady. With the ship lying visibly behind in her back, whose sails are nevertheless still “swollen by the love”. The heights may then be just a repoussoir, particularly as their existence on the Louvre painting stressed today remained unknown to Ridinger as it was not engraved in the 18th century.

That in the end Watteau warmed himself in no way at the purely mythological Aphrodite cult the Sailboats of Saint-Cloud of his days prove. These “boats of joys drove the townspeople allured by a short gallant adventure from Paris to the park of Saint-Cloud, the residence of the House of Orléans. The mystic superimposition of the theme of the travel to Cythera and the escapade to Saint-Cloud is perfectly present to the people of that time”. And accordingly the marble balustrade of the picture in Frankfort “that reminds of the Borromaeic islands is quite prosaically inspired by the railing at the small cascade in Saint-Cloud”. Accordingly

“ ‘Happy, departed from the normal path, he let us see love among these new groups, and showed us

the nymphs of our days

as charming as Cythera’

Abbé Fraguier wrote in his Epitaph de Watteau who assigns the modern Cythera definitely to a reality and not a myth … ”


Remains the never ending discussion of a never ending theme. And a reference to its richly illustrated and documented treatment in the Watteau Catalog by Morgan Grasselli and Rosenberg to the 1984/85 touring exhibition Washington – Paris – Berlin, from which, with the exception of that by Jahn, all quotations have been taken (see there i. a. on G 9, G 61 + G 62).

And it remains a “Minimized Ridinger” (Niemeyer) surprising again with a

thematically quite extraordinarily charming + optically quite marvelous sheet

of together exceptional rarity

by which he closes up to Watteau of whom Moureau states :

“ … the isles of love have (then) an ideological meaning which surpasses their role as simple place of the gallant allegory by far. This touch of ‘libertinage’ which bewilders one in Watteau’s work, this touch that is ‘turned to Cythera’ … should be examined thoroughly. The ways to Cythera run on philosophical ways … The painter whose ‘intellectual libertinage’ Caylus (painter friend + biographer of W.) emphasized especially … of whom Gersaint (gallery friend + biographer of W.) said that he adhered to ‘the spirit of the libertinage’, ‘but (was) decent in his way of life’ … this Watteau still offers some surprises ”

(Moureau). – Quite as Ridinger.

For whom after the evidences of manifold intensive occupation with Watteau above, all inscribed with the “excudit” only, last, but not least, is confirmed that his “excudit”, beginning with Thienemann commonly regarded as the publisher’s address only though in the sense of Langenscheidt it can in fact include the inventor/sculptor as additionally “has engraved or worked it”, at least partially refers to himself as the artistic spiritus rector indeed and not just at the publisher. The “ipse inv.” on the famous “Self-Portrait in the Forest”, Th. XIX, 1, perhaps attached only erroneously by Martin Elias on occasion of his transfer to the plate, is in this regard nevertheless clear. It is equally clear, too, as lately documented here, that this “Self-Portrait” has its great example: the double portrait Watteau-Jullienne “Besides you I sit, below these lovely shadowy trees” of the “Recueil Jullienne”.

With that Self-Portrait then, yet more distinct in the “Lady with the Black Mask” above, but in most superior style in the “Cythera Lady” here or in his “Hippocrene” rejected by him and published here for the first time to his 300th birthday Ridinger’s mastership in imaginative improvisation completely unconsidered in the past is proved a further time, now then related to Watteau.

“ Great artists seldom cite one another literally. In some cases they pay homage to a predecessor by alluding unobtrusively in their own creations to other ideas ”

(Dirk De Vos, Rogier van der Weyden, 1999, p. 36, with the reference to Dieric Bouts [about 1420 – 1475] as the probably first example of “such a fruitful adoption”).

Offer no. 28,408 | price on application

“ I am very late to thank you for your kind and detailed e-mail of Sept. 21. – We are back in the US since early Oct. and are catching up with privat and business matters.

The visit with you was a pleasure and so nice to meet you in person … The advise and first pass evaluation you gave us were realistic and appreciated … ”

(Mr. + Mrs. N. Sch., November 6, 2009)


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