Clodion presented Le Sacrifice à l'Amour
as a pair with La Marchande d'Amours
under n°249 at the 1773 Salon, where they were bought by the Prince de Conti.Le Sacrifice à l'Amour
, a particularly rare and sought-after subject, was drawn by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin in the catalogue for the second Prince de Conti sale in 1779, where it appears as n° 285 (fig. 3). The works were clearly favourites of Clodion who owned himself two reliefs with the same motif in his own collection, as per the inventory taken after his death in 1814: "a terracotta bas-relief of Le Sacrifice à l'Amour, in a pair with La Marchande d'Amour
" (cf.J.J. Guiffrey, op. cit
. p. 229).
The Sacrifice to Love
was a typical neoclassical motif but there is no specific source that the artist could have used as a model. The composition is Clodion's own invention, inspired by classical reliefs and paintings he may have seen in Italy and that were published in Le Pitture antiche d'Ercolano
, or by Abbé de Saint-Non's prints of classical works in his 1763 series Recueil des griffonis.
A priestess stands in the centre wearing loose robes, a veil held on her head by a laurel wreath, as she pours a libation from a patera onto the altar and lights a fire with a torch. Behind her, a vestal virgin in a classical stola with bare arms, her hair nicely arranged in a chignon, carries a pitcher on a tray. A third veiled woman crouches behind her, turning her back to us and holding a large vase. The winged cupid stands on a pedestal, one hand holding his bow and the other ready to pull an arrow from his quiver.
Virgil describes a similar scene in his Eclogue VIII: "Bring water, and with soft wool-fillet bind these altars round about, and burn thereon rich vervain and male frankincense, that I may strive with magic spells to turn astray my lover's saner senses". Perhaps this sacrificial scene can be interpreted as love's triumph over chastity, as Scherf suggested.
Le Sacrifice à l'Amour exists as a marble relief signed Clodion, which came from the La Live de La Briche collection, today in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris (fig. 2). Our terracotta differs in a few details from the marble, in particular the more nervous modelling of the Vestal's loose robes, the relief that decorates the altar and the addition of some plants in the foreground. Today, there are three other known terracotta versions of Le Sacrifice à l'Amour. One is in the Brinsley Ford collection in London and came from Emile Strauss, 1929 (Sutton,op.cit.). Another is in the former Georges Wildenstein collection, and the third, signed Clodion, was offered by Sotheby's London on April 7th, 1977, lot 295.