Pierre Puget, (born Oct. 16, 1620, at or near Marseille,
Fr.—died Dec. 2, 1694, Marseille), the most original of
French Baroque sculptors, also a painter and architect.
Puget travelled in Italy as
a young man (1640–43), when he was employed by a muralist,
Pietro da Cortona, to work on the ceiling decorations of the
Barberini Palace in Rome and the Pitti Palace in Florence.
Between 1643 and 1656 he was active in Marseille and Toulon
chiefly as a painter, but he also carved colossal
figureheads for men-of-war. An important sculpture
commission in 1656 was for the doorway of the Hôtel de
Ville, Toulon; his caryatid figures there, although in the
tradition of Roman Baroque, show a strain and an anguish
that are similar to the Mannerist works of Michelangelo.
Such feelings are passionately expressed in works like the
“Milo of Crotona” (c. 1671–84), in which the athlete Milo,
whose hand is caught in a tree stump, is portrayed under
attack by a lion.
In 1659 Puget went to
Paris, where he attracted the attention of Louis XIV’s
minister Fouquet. The latter fell from power in 1661 while
Puget was in Italy selecting marble for the Hercules
commissioned by him (now the “Hercule gaulois” in the
Louvre). Puget remained in Italy for several years,
establishing a considerable reputation as a sculptor in
Genoa. A “St. Sebastian” in Sta. Maria di Carignano is among
his best works there.
After 1669 Puget’s life was
spent mainly in Toulon and Marseille, where he was engaged
in architectural work and the decoration of ships as well as
sculpture. His difficult and somewhat arrogant temperament
made him unacceptable to Louis XIV’s powerful minister
Colbert, and it was only late in life that he achieved some
degree of court patronage. His “Milo of Crotona” was taken
to Versailles in 1683, and the “Perseus and Andromeda” was
well received there in 1684. But Puget was soon the victim
of intrigues by his rivals, and his success at court was
short-lived. His fine low relief of “Alexander and Diogenes”
(c. 1671–93) never reached Versailles, other works planned
for Versailles were either refused or frustrated, and Puget
became embittered by these failures.