Poliphilus at the Nymphs’ Bath
Le Sueur served his apprenticeship in the studio of Vouet, and became one of his principal collaborators. Initially very influenced by the decorative exuberance of his master, he restrained his style around 1645 after Poussin’s stay in Paris and under the influence Raphaël’s prints. But Le Sueur’s work would never lose its linear elegance inspired by the art of Fontainebleau.
The title of this painting, dated between 1636 and 1644, is taken from a famous book by Francesco Colonna, and is one of a series of eight paintings intended to be transposed into tapestry. In the episode depicted here, five nymphs, personifying the five senses, invite Poliphilus to bathe. Whilst attempting to draw water from a fountain of the Manneken-Pis type, he is sprayed with water at an inopportune moment.
By alluding to the classically inspired fantasies of the Renaissance and in choosing the theme of women bathing, so popular in Fontainebleau – the bath being the perfect place for exciting the senses - Le Sueur moves towards the refinement and restraint of Atticism.