Voltaire vs. Voltaire

Comparing two works of art with the subject matter of the famed philosopher Voltiare, the pieces have many similarities, but differences as well.

Jean Baptise Pigalle made ‘Voltaire’ 1770-1776. His Voltaire was not received well by the public at the time it was created. It was a very realistic portrayal of the philosopher, rather than the idealized that was the norm for sculptors to create. He is half naked, his figure is not idealized, covered halfway by a robe. This seems to portray great physical likeness of the philosopher. Now the work is much better appreciated for its realistic style than when it was initially received.


Jean Antoine Houdon made ‘Voltaire Seated’ in 1778, which was much preferred by the public. Showing the fully clothed figure having a casual conversation, his smiling head tilted in a friendly manner. It seems as though Houdon wanted to capture the essence of the philosopher, rather than physical likeness. Both have the philosopher in a seated position, but Pigalle depicts Voltaire in a neoclassical light, although not idealized.


Which do you prefer? Personally, I find that Houdon’s work is more pleasant to look at and I enjoy it, but I can appreciate the realness of Pigalle’s likeness of philosopher. I don’t understand why the public did not like Pigalle’s sculpture, it is very good! Houdon however, made Voltaire seem more friendly, welcoming, and handsome. I think Houdon wins as my favorite, though both sculptures are fine pieces of art history.


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