The martyrdom of Saint Victoria

The martyrdom of Saint Victoria - Sculpture plâtre

Lot n° 68


A. Maral, La Chapelle Royale de Versailles, Paris, 2011, p. 192-195; L. Deshairs, Les bas-reliefs des petits autels de la chapelle de Versailles, Paris, 2006, p. 217-230; D. Cès, 'Un relief en terre cuite à redécouvrir à l'église Saint-Louis de Fontainebleau, dans Revue d'histoire de Fontainebleau, n° 2, p. 28-30; H. Portiglia, (éd. J.R.Gaborit), Trésors sacrés, trésors caches. Patrimoine des églises de Seine-et-Marne, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Luxembourg, 1988, p. 240-241; H. Thirion, Les Adam et Clodion, Paris, 1985, p. 80-83; L. Sapy, Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, un sculpteur au siècle des Lumières (thesis in preparation), Montpellier, 2017.


This rare survival is undoubtedly Adam’s original plaster, probably used as a presentation model before the casting of the monumental bronze relief, for one of the altars of the Royal Chapel in Versailles, still in situ (fig. 1). Born into a family of sculptors from Nancy, Nicolas-Sébastien Adam was the youngest of three brothers. Trained by his father, then in the studio of his elder brother Lambert-Sigisbert, he worked on the decoration of the Mosson château in Juvignac, near Montpellier, before leaving for Rome (1726-1734). On his return to Paris, Adam received important commissions from the Batiments du Roi such as the decoration of the Hôtel de Soubise in 1736. In 1740, in collaboration with his brother, he sculpted the monumental group of Neptune and Amphitrite for the gardens of Versailles. One of his most remarkable works remains the funerary monument of Queen Catherine Opalinska, King Stanislas's wife, in the Church of Notre-Dame de Bonsecours, Nancy, France (1749). When the Royal Chapel of Versailles was consecrated in 1710, its interior decoration was not fully completed. The reliefs decorating the small altars were provisionally made of plaster, waiting to be replaced by bronzes. It was only in 1734 that the Duke of Antin finally resumed this project and commissioned a set of bronze reliefs from six young artists from the new generation. The proposed subjects were intended to illustrate the patron saints of the royal family; one altar of each chapel was dedicated to each member of the family. Thus, the Slodtz brothers received the commission for three altar reliefs of Saint Louis, Bouchardon for the altar of Saint Charles, Ladatte for the altar of Saint Philip, Vinache for the altar relief of Saint Theresa, Guillaume II Coustou for the altar of the Virgin Mary, Francin for the altar of the Holy Sacrament, and Verberckt for the altar of Saint Anne. The altar reliefs of the chapels on the western aisles were entrusted to the Adam brothers: Saint Adelaide to Lambert-Sigisbert and Saint Victoria to Nicolas-Sébastien Adam. The latter exhibited the original plaster of Saint Victoria at the Salon of 1737, described as "A bas-relief representing Saint Victoria, Virgin and Martyr, for an altar of the King's chapel in Versailles". A first mention of payment can be found in the registry of the Bâtiments du Roi of 1737 (A.N. O1 1763). As evidenced by a letter from the artist dated December 20, 1740, he worked from a wax model to cast the bronze: ... "I have the honor to tell you that I worked after the wax; I have received 500 livres as deposit, as for the bronze, I have not received any'. Adam presented the bronze relief at the Salon in 1743, n °107: 'a bronze bas-relief, to be placed on one of the altars of the Chapel of Versailles, representing the martyrdom of Saint Victoria, paid 4,305 livres'. The bronze monumental relief (76x137 cm) was finally placed in the Royal Chapel in 1747. There exists also a terracotta version of this composition (60x34 cm) in the church of Saint-Louis at Fontainebleau which presents variants with our plaster and with the final work (cf. D. Cès, op.cit.). The reliefs by the Adam brothers were considered the most elaborate and beautiful compositions amongst this ensemble, reflecting the influence of the Italian baroque. Nicolas-Sébastien Adam excelled in the dynamic modelling of the ample drapery, sculpted deeply to highlight the dramatic movement of the figures. The sculptor has paid particular attention to details and there are several interesting variants with the final version in bronze, such as Jupiter's feet appearing from the sky or the embroidered border of Saint Victoria's coat. This bronze patinated plaster gives us a unique insight into the artist's creative process.