At the 1795 Salon, Marin's bust of Cérès was a sign of the artistic changes taking place in France after the Reign of Terror, with a return to classical models that laid the foundations for Neoclassicism. This herm's meticulous construction and the goddess's stylised facial features are a marked contrast to the nymphs, bacchantes and other classical subjects in which Marin, like his master Clodion, had specialised until then. At a time when the country was rebuilding itself, he chose to sculpt an earth goddess as an allegory of abundance, of a fertile land on which a new society could be founded. Marin may have chosen iconography suited to the times but he did not entirely relinquish his delicate style. The traditionally severe classical style is softened by the highly ornamental crown of wheat and vines, the soft, wavy locks of hair and the goddess's seductively feminine breasts.
There are very few herms by Marin that we know of. As well as their unique classical construction, they are distinctively larger than his bacchantes or nymphs. One notable example is the herm Buste de Jeune Femme – signed, dated 1793 – sold by Sotheby's of London on 6th April 1995, lot 73 (height 43 cm). Another is the terracotta Cybèle in the Musée Cognacq-Jay, which is attributed to Marin and strikingly similar to our bust (inv. n° J 236 ; fig. 1). It is also a frontal view of another goddess of fertility - Cybèle. Her stylised features, the symmetry of her hair underscored by the two bunches of grapes hanging from her crown on either side of her face, and the straight fringe that covers her brow are all similar to the elements found in our terracotta bust.
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