Although allegory is a genre that was widely practised until the Revolution and was always to be found in places of power, where it fulfilled a political function, and found, too, in private homes, not all artists were equally competent in the field. While Suvée's tragic paintings always met with a mixed reception from critics because of the stiffness of his figures and a lack of energy in their execution, allegory, which is a meditative form of creation often requiring static compositions, was better suited to his sober and restrained disposition. The sovereign is not depicted in the composition, but Minerva protecting the Arts is consistent with the iconography of monarchical allegories about the promotion of the arts under the Ancien Régime. The presence of Prudence and Justice behind the goddess confers a political dimension on her such that Minerva becomes assimilated to the Nation – after 1789, she came to symbolise France. Identification of the subject, however, is not easy, as the fine arts do not occupy the biggest area in the picture. Only Painting is depicted in action, while Sculpture and Architecture are represented as two children standing beneath Minerva's shield, their attributes lying on the ground in the foreground on the right. Prudence and Justice, along with History and Geography, both kneeling on the left, occupy proportionally more space, while the classical statue that dominates the group, holding a heart with both hands, is a powerful presence. We would propose an alternative to the suggested identification of this statue as Pandora. Very few ideas are symbolised by a woman holding a heart in Cesare Ripa's Iconologia, and it is never the only attribute. But, if we exclude the fasces, which this statue does not hold, it could be the personification of Concord, guaranteed by Minerva, which is the essential pre-requisite for the free exercise of human intellectual faculties.
A project like this would almost certainly have been for a commission that we have no record of today, and that was never carried out. The resulting modello is a distillation of Suvée's painting style, characterised by a use of colour that is entirely in the service of the drawing. But even though line dominates, the execution of the sketch displays an ease that this artist often lost when working on a large scale.
Sale in Brussels, Rops Salesroom, 8 November 2015, n° 1220 (as anonymous). – Galerie Didier Aaron. –