Saint Michel Terrassant le Dragon (Saint Michael Defeating the Dragon)
(French, 1824 - 1910)
Signed E. FREMIET
Bronze with a golden patination
Height: 23.5" (59cm)
First conceived in 1875 and remodelled between 1894-1897, this example cast within the artist's lifetime.
Emmanuel Fremiet was born in Paris in 1824 and was a highly-respected sculptor of animals and monuments, executing numerous public commissions. His early career was spent studying under his uncle, the master François Rude, in his famous studios at the Rue d'Enfer.
His debut exhibit at the Salon in 1843 was a plaster model of a gazelle. Over the next few years, he submitted a wide variety of other models of animals, winning a medal in 1849; his ever-growing fame led him to work for the imperial family, and to win a golden medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1855. The artist was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour in 1860, being admired by many of his colleagues for his adventurous compositions, which often introduced the struggle between wild animals and humans.
In the 1870s, Fremiet won a number of important public commissions, cementing his career as a respected public sculptor. These include the equestrian statue of Jeanne D'Arc (Joan of Arc), which now resides in the Place des Pyramides, Paris, and the leaping horses and dolphins at the base of Carpeaux’s Observatory fountain (1875) in the Luxembourg Gardens.
E. Fremiet, Jeanne d’Arc, gilded bronze, 1899, Place du Rivoli, Paris
Fremiet’s conception of the current model, Saint Michel Terrassant le Dragon (St Michael Defeating the Dragon), also dates to the 1870s. This was originally conceived as a bronze statuette, which was cast by the More foundry and exhibited at the 1879 Paris Salon. The original concept for the work shows Saint Michael trampling a human-headed dragon on top of a boulder. In 1896, Petitgrand, the architect in charge of the restoration of the monastery of Mont Saint Michel (Normandy), asked Fremiet to enlarge the sculpture, so that it could be placed at the top of the monastery.
Mont Saint Michel (Normandy)
Revisiting his work to create the monumental piece for Mont Saint Michel, Fremiet changed the human head of the monster to that of a dragon, and modified the rocky structure to fit the composition onto a capital. Apart from these slight adjustments, the composition of the sculpture remained unchanged.
The composition of the present statuette corresponds to the monumental version of the work at Mont Saint Michel. This proved particularly popular with collectors both during and after Fremiet’s lifetime. The numbering and inscriptions on the present piece confirm that example was cast by More before the death of the artist in 1910, as the Barbedienne foundry acquired the rights of reproduction for this model only in that year. The More foundry is also responsible for the monumental version of St Michael currently part of the Musée d’Orsay collection.
The gilding of the bronze enhances the solemnity of the archangel’s countenance and gesture. Raising his sword over his head with his right arm, ready to strike the fatal blow to the already-subdued devil, Michael’s face is strikingly poised. Yet, his detachment does not stiffen the composition, but rather enhances its aura of magnificence.
Catherine Chevillot’s 1898 catalogue for the exhibition Emmanuel Fremiet: ‘Le Main et le Multiple’ at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon poignantly compares the present work to the St Michael carved in the Retable of the Crucifixion (ca 1390) by the sculptor Jacques de Baerze. This comparison is particularly powerful for it outlines Fremiet’s ingenious use of late Medieval sculptural canons, as well as the poised pathos of Raphaelesque compositional schemes, to develop a timeless image.
Raphael, St Michael, Oil on Wood, 1504-1505, Louvre (Paris)
Jacques de Baerze, Retable of the Crucifixion (detail with St Michale and St Cecilia), carved wood, ca 1390, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon