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Oil painting - An Allegory
  • An Allegory
    Cazes, Pierre Jacques, born 1676 - died 1754
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An Allegory

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1730 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Cazes, Pierre Jacques, born 1676 - died 1754 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Pierre Jacques Cazes (1676-1754) was born in Paris where he remained all his life long. He trained with René-Antoine Houasse (ca. 1645-1710) and Bon Boullogne (1649-1717) and despite having won the Prix de Rome in 1699, he never went to Rome. He rapidly received important commissions, especially from the court, and became one of the leading painters of history paintings. His sons, Jacques-Nicolas and Pierre-Michel Cazes, were his pupils as well as renowned figures of the following generation such as Charles Parrocel (1688-1752) and Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779).

This painting is a fine example of 17th-century French history paintings, of which Cazes was one of the most authoritative exponents although he was soon forgotten after his death. It represents probably the allegory of fidelity and may have been destined to the decoration of a church or a private palace, for which he supplied many designs during his long career.

Physical description

A draped young woman seen from the profile, is striking the head of a greyhound with one hand while a putto reaches across her lap toward the dog; another putto, reclining on a cloud, holds keys in both hands.

Place of Origin

Paris (painted)


ca. 1730 (painted)


Cazes, Pierre Jacques, born 1676 - died 1754 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas

Marks and inscriptions

'Sebastian Conca pinxit 1700'
'Sebastiano Conca painted [this] 1700'
Inscribed on a label on the back of the painting


Height: 31.8 cm approx., Width: 40 cm approx., :

Object history note

Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, 1868.
Ref : Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860. Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990. p.xix.

'Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868) was born into a wealthy family, only son of Henry Hare Townsend of Busbridge Hall, Godalming, Surrey. Educated at Eton and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (BA 1821). Succeeded to the family estates 1827, when he added 'h' to the Townsend name. He had taken holy orders, but while he always referred to himself as 'Rev.' on the title pages of his books, he never practised his vocation... . Very much a dilettante in the eighteenth-century sense, he moved in the highest social and literary circles; a great friend of Charles Dickens (he was the dedicatee of Great Expectations) with whom he shared a fascination of mesmerism... Bulwer Lytton described his life's 'Beau-deal of happiness' as 'elegant rest, travel, lots of money - and he is always ill and melancholy'. Of the many watercolours and British and continental oil paintings he bequeathed to the V&A, the majority are landscapes. He is the first identifiable British collector of early photographs apart from the Prince Consort, particularly landscape photography, and also collected gems and geological specimens.'

Historical significance: Formerly attributed to the Rome-based painter Sebastiano Conca (1680-1764), this painting appears to be a fine example of Cazes' output, which ranges from large religious compositions and history paintings to delightful genre scenes (A. Schnapper, written communication, 1971).
It depicts an allegorical scene that E.H. Gombrich (1956) identified as an allegory of fidelity, which traditional attributes are a woman dressed in white, a dog and keys. This iconography is described in Ripa's Iconologia (1603) which appears to be the main iconographical source in Western art from the 17th century onwards.
This painting appears quite typical of Cazes' mythological compositions such as Venus and Cupid, Crocker Art Museum, California (1872.174) in which he similarly played with subtle lights and shade and inserted fluttering putti among clouds while greyhounds also recurs frequently ijn his oeuvre (see The swing, Louvre, Paris). This stylistic consistency was apparently already noticed by his contemporaries as Mariette wrote that Cazes 'composed with ease and gracefully, but always in the same manner, so that if one has seen one of his pictures, one has seen them all'.
This painting was originally oval in format and squared later on, which suggests that it probably belonged to a cycle of decorative panel depicting various allegories. Because of his relatively small size, 1346-1869 may have been a sketch for a larger painting, possibly for a ceiling while radiography in 1956 revealed another painting beneath it.

Historical context note

History painting, i.e. depictions of non recurring events based on religious, classical, literary or allegorical sources, particularly developed in Italy during the Renaissance (15th-16th centuries). History painting could include religious themes, or depictions of momentous recent events, but the term was most frequently associated with Classical subject-matter. However a renewed impetus was given to religious subjects after the Council of Trent (1545-63), which stipulated new iconographical programmes. The development of art treatises, in which the compositional rules guiding the art of painting were discussed also notably, influenced the evolution of history painting. From around 1600 history painting's principal rivals: still-life, landscape and genre painting began to emerge as independent collectable genres. Furthermore, the Rococo taste for the ornamental in the early 18th century prioritised the decorative quality of history painting, so that subject matters became more entertaining than exemplary. There was a renewed interest in history painting during the Neo-Classical period after which the taste for such pictures faded towards the end of the 19th century when an innovative approach to the image was led by the Symbolists and was developed further by subsequent schools in the early 20th century.

Descriptive line

Oil Painting, 'An Allegory', attributed to Pierre Jacques Cazes, ca. 1730

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

C.M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 66-67, cat. no. 64
M. Levey, The 18th century Italian Schools,The National Gallery,London: 1956, p. 42 f.

Production Note

Originally attributed to Sebastiano Conca (because of a label on the back which reads 'Sebastian Conca pinxit 1700'), Antoine Schnapper has reattributed it to Cazes.


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Clouds; Woman; Allegory; Keys; Putti; Dog




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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