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Storied Past

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Mucius Scaevola Putting His Hand in the Fire

circa 1726-1728
18th century
46.6 cm x 38 cm (18 3/8 in. x 14 15/16 in.)

François Boucher (Paris, 1703 - 1770, Paris) Primary

Object Type: drawing
Artist Nationality: Europe, French
Medium and Support: Black and white chalks on blue antique laid paper, laid down
Credit Line: Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Suida-Manning Collection, 2017
Accession Number: 2017.929

This drawing illustrates the story Plutarch and Livy tell of the ancient Roman hero Mucius Scaevola. Captured and brought before the Etruscan king laying siege to Rome, Mucius put his right hand into a fire to show his indifference to physical pain, thereby earning the admiration of his captors, winning his freedom, and ensuring peace with the Etruscans. This drawing is an important early work by François Boucher. Its dynamic composition, rhythm, and dramatic action perpetuate and amplify the graphic power learned from his teacher François Lemoyne. At the time of this drawing, Boucher was the principal reproductive etcher for Jean de Jullienne’s collection of prints after Jean- Antoine Watteau’s drawings. His original design for the frontispiece to the third volume of the collection is in fact very close in structure and movement to this work. Boucher’s deep involvement with printmaking at around this time, the drawing’s uniform development and sure handling, the sheet’s large size, and Mucius’s offering of his left hand (which would have been correctly reversed in a print) all suggest that this drawing was not just a compositional study but the working model for an engraving that was apparently never executed.

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