This beautiful plaster is the original model for Jean-Baptiste Giraud’s Achille blessé (Achilles wounded) in the musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence (inv. no. S-823.2.1). Sculptures by Giraud are rare. Born in Aix-en-Provence, he initially trained as a goldsmith in Paris before moving to Italy, where he became friends with the painter Jacques-Louis David. Giraud inherited a large fortune from his uncle, which enabled him to move to Italy in 1790. The young sculptor spent the next eight years in Florence, Rome and Naples, assembling a matchless collection of plaster casts after celebrated antique models, which he installed in a private museum in his redice in the Place Vendôme in Paris. Meredith Shedd has estimated that the collection included at least 188 plaster casts after the antique, including the Laocoön, the Apollo Belvedere, the Borghese Faun, the Capitoline Venus, the Venus de’ Medici, and the Venus de Milo. Giraud provided a charming description of his escape into his private museum in a letter to a friend:
Je suis rentré dans ma caverne retiré comme un ours au milieu des plus beaux chefs-d’oeuvre grecs, la nature à côté, je la compare, je l’étudie, j’aperçois de plus en plus les grâces, les finesses qu’ils ont eu l’art de si bein réunir aux formes divines. J’espère que vous ne me prendrez pas pour une égoïste, si je caresse tous les jours les chefs-d’oeuvre de l’art; j’aime à communiquer mes réflexions.
The collection of casts was celebrated by Giraud’s contemporaries, who were invited to visit his rooms in the Place Vendôme and study the models. Sadly, the collection was dispersed later in the 19th century, after the French government had refused an offer to acquire it in 1830.
The Achille blessé was Giraud’s morceau de réception (reception piece) for the Académie Royal and the version in marble was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1789. The Achille blessé was well received, and gained the attention of the Jacques-Louis David, who, in a letter to Wicar on 17 September 1789, mentions the work:
C’est celui qui vient de faire chez nous une figure de réception représentant Achille … Cetter figure l’a fair recevoir tout blanc… C’est certainement la première figure et le premier sculpteur chez nous; c’est le seul qui tient réellement de l’antique et qui soi réllement savant.
[He is the one back at home who has just made a sculpture representing Achilles for his reception … As a result of this figure he was universally accepted (into the Académie Royal) … It is certainly the finest sculpture and the finest sculptor we have; he is the only sculptor who truly understands the antique and his truly knowledgeable].
Giraud’s Achille blessé is a masterwork in the study of the male anatomy, which is evidently informed by his extensive study of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. Achilles, the hero of Homer’s Illiad, reclines in agony and pulls the fatal arrow from his heel. The torso and the helmet are perhaps indebted to the ancient Pasquino group in the Loggia dei Lanzi. In the chaos of the French Revolution Giraud was able to retrieve his marble from the Académie Royale and gifted it to his home town, Aix-en-Provenance, where it remains in the musée Granet to this day. The present plaster was formerly in a private collection in Aix-en-Provence, and was exhibited at the Exposition des Beaux-Arts in Marseille in 1861.
Livret du Salon de 1789, p. 54, no. 283 (Achille mourant); Mercure de France, 24 October 1789, no. 43, p. 91 (Achille mourant & Mercure, exhibited in addition to the Livret under no. 348); T-B. Émeric-David, Recherches sur l'art statuaire considéré chez les Anciens et chez les Modernes, Paris, 1805, pp. VII-VIII (Avertissements) ; F. Miel, ‘Notice sur les deux Giraud, sculpteurs français’, in Annales de la Société libre des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1840, pp. 105-113 ; 1900, Universal Exhibition, Catalogue illustré officiel de l'exposition centennale de l'Art français, 1800 à 1889, Paris, 1900, p. 229, no. 1664 (wax bozzetto of Mercure); L. Gonse, Les Chefs d'œuvres des Musées de France, Paris, 1904, p. 27; S. Lami, Dictionnaire des sculpteurs du dix-huitième siècle, vol. I, Paris 1910, p. 375-377; M. Shedd, ‘A neo-classical connoisseur and his collection: J. B. Giraud's museum of casts at the Place Vendôme’, in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, April 1984, pp. 198–206; A. Maral and A. Pingeot, Sculptures: La galerie du musée Granet, Paris, 2003, pp. 76-77