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Daily Helping for August 15th, 2021 – Angélique Mongez – Theseus and Pirithoüs

A close up photo of the chalk drawing by Angélique Mongez. The drawing is black and white, and depicts Theseus and Pirithoüs saving two women who had been abducted.

After my previous disappointments over the lack of female artists on display in Parisian museums, I decided it was time to specifically seek them out. Luckily, the Musée du Luxembourg had my back on this, because this summer, they curated an exhibition dedicated to female artists from 1780-1830. An entire exhibition! I had over 70 pieces to choose from, and they were all gorgeous. However, the piece above caught my eye in the final room of the exhibition space, and I knew I had found today’s daily helping. Theseus and Pirithoüs by Angélique Mongez.

Actually, technically, the full title of this piece is Theseus and Pirithoüs Clearing the Earth of Brigands, Deliver Two Women from the Hands of their Abductors. Very descriptive. And ironic, given both Theseus and Pirithoüs’ penchant for abducting women themselves in Greek mythology. In fact, Pirithoüs tried to abduct none other than Persephone herself, wife of Hades. He found himself doomed in the Underworld for all eternity as punishment.

I think that’s why this artwork intrigued me so much. Theseus and Pirithoüs are clearly the heroes in this piece. They are strong and brave, but also soft and gentle. In particular, Pirithoüs is almost tender in how he is lowering the woman from the horse in the centre. Had the artist been a man, I wouldn’t have thought twice about this depiction. But knowing that the artist is a woman makes it all the more interesting. Angélique Mongez was a highly educated woman, so she would have known the full history of her two lead characters. To decide to portray them in such a heroic light is a fascinating choice on her part.

I should also note that this was the only piece in the entire exhibition that wasn’t a painting. This piece was created using chalk, making the detailing all the more extraordinary. Especially the physicality of the figures. Angélique Mongez was criticized in her time for being a woman who dared to depict nudity in her works, and this piece is no exception. And it’s stunningly beautiful. I have no idea how she managed to create this level of detail and shading with chalk, but it was easily my favourite piece in the exhibition. And that’s saying something, because the rest of the artwork on display was just as gorgeous. All in all, it was a great day at a museum.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!