François Boucher
Earth: Vertumnus and Pomona

Click on the picture to see an enlarged version.

    • Oil on Canvas, 1749
    • 34 1/4 x 53 5/8 inches
    • Columbus Museum of Art

In 1748, Boucher received a commission from the Director of the Royal Apartments for a set of paintings representing the four elements. Two were completed. "Arion carried on a Dolphin accompanied by Triton and Nereids and other Sea Gods" represented water. This picture of Vertumnus and Pomona surrounded by trees, flowers and fruits, was to illustrate earth.

The story is a rather obscure one which was given its best known form in Ovid's Metamorphises. It concerns two Roman deities: Pomona a nymph who loved to tend her fruit trees and flowers shut herself up in a garden away from all human and divine lovers. Vertumnus, the god of orchards, desired her passionately and tried various ruses to enter her garden. At last, disguised as a very old woman, he is granted admission, where he begins to woo the nymph by praising her beauty and her fruit.

Passionately he compares his plight with an elm tree which was intertwined with vines bearing grapes. If the tree stood alone, Vertumnus argued, the vine would have nowhere to go and the grapes would be trampled under foot. "You shun marriage and do not care to be wed," so he the god of the orchards cannot bear fruit without her help. His words melt the nymph's heart and they are united.

In Boucher's painting, the symbol of deception, through which love achieves its fulfillment, is the mask held by winged Cupid at his feet. Boucher's inspiration for using this story to represent earth in his commission came from a ballet performed at Versailles in January 1749. Boucher was probably the designer of the sets, and Madame de Pompadour played the role of Pomona. Once again, the features of the beautiful nymph are those of Boucher's patron.

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