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Hélène DUCCINI

Watteau and Marivaux : two Witnesses of the Transformation of the amorous Sentiment in the 18th century

Le Temps des médias n°19, Automne 2012, p. 12-21.

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Watteau (1684-1721) and Marivaux (1688-1763) both witnessed the transformation of the amorous sentiment at the beginning of the 18th century, a change they expressed by different means. The light-hearted banter (the « marivaudage ») is already present in pictures of “gallant festivities”(« fêtes galantes »), a new genre of painting which ranks among those recognized by the Académie royale de peinture with the presentation of L’Embarquement pour Cythère (« The Embarkation for Cythera ») in 1718. In the two versions (one in the Louvre, the other in Berlin) of this journey to the island where Venus was born from the foam of the sea, Watteau renders the phases of love, which begin with whispered exchanges, then move on to declaration of love, culminating with the departure of the couples for Cythera. Marivaux’s theatre likewise reflects this new way of expressing amorous feelings ; it does so in a more personal manner, more respectful of the partner. In the conquest of freedom peculiar to the 18th century, the choice of the partner becomes the prerogative of the bride and groom, and their feelings prevail over the material interests of the families and the concern for lineage. Fathers have a say in the matter, but children have every right to have their own preference. The painter and the playwright, witnesses of this change of amorous feelings, convey t them a in a new form of melancholic landscapes and in the dialogues of « games of chance and love ».

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