PARIS – Giuseppe Cesari, known as Le Cavalier d’Arpin, was a hard-working and conscientious artist who enjoyed the favours of the papacy throughout his career. His path crossed that of Caravaggio, who was a student in his studio for a short while and with whom Cesari, a favourite painter of the Pope, was favourably compared at the time.
The oil-on-copper featured in the Paris Old Master & 19th Century Paintings & Drawings this June, entitled Suzanne, once illuminated the collection of French Regent Philippe d’Orléans until 1792. While a Biblical theme, it offered the artist a variety of ways to explore the female nude – Le Cavalier d’Arpin depicts Suzanne as sensuous and milky skinned, with voluptuous curves. Her purity and delicate features are subtly enhanced by a crimson mouth with fleshy lips, like a ripe raspberry. Behind her we can see two old men plotting to make an indecent proposal to the object of their desire. The whole is powerfully rendered with suavely vigorous brushwork.
This picture oozes sensuality, but we are not shocked by the wicked aims of the old men or by Suzanne’s apparently modest pose. The sky’s soft blue diffuses a soothing light, and Suzanne ignores the two men, brushing her long blond hair with her head turned slightly, gazing out provocatively. The audacious composition was praised by Diderot, and lends the work a lasting modernity sure to appeal to today’s viewers, chaste or otherwise.