the Story of a Famous Ecorché

During his stay at the  Académie de France in Rome from 1764 to 1768 Jean Antoine Houdon, modeled on San Bruno and SanGiovanni Battista in the church of Santa Maria degli Angelicommissioned by Dom. Andrè Le Masson procurateur general of the Carthusian order of frairs. 
In 1767 Houdon installed the colossus marble of San Bruno in its niche, where it remains today. Houdon executed the large statue (3,15 mt.) of St. John the Baptist only in plaster and placing its in its niche before left Rome in 1868. 
On the night of 3-4 June 1894 the statue was broke. 
Unfortunately no photo has survived and the exact composition is unknown. A life-size plaster copy was found in 1921 in a storeroom of the Museo Nazionale Romano, near the church of Santa Maria degli  Angeli. The sculpture was damaged and Achille Bertini Calosso (superintendent of Fine Arts in that years) recognized it as Houdon’s model for the statue commissioned in 1766 (today in the Galleria Borghese collection). This is the only known surviving version of the statue. 

The plaster model of Houdon’s Saint John the Baptist, Galleria Borghese, Rome.

In preparation for the execution of this commission Houdon modeled a figure of an Ecorché in the same pose. Johann Christian von Mannlich, an Houdon’s friend at the Académie de France wrote in his diary: My friend Houdon, who at that time was doing a statue representing Saint John the Baptist for the church of the carthusian, had the idea to do the model in clay that he had at hand , first as an Ecorché, and every day he used our [anatomy] lesson and my drawings in order to study the system of muscles thoroughly.  
A comparison with Houdon’s plaster Ecorché of 1767 reveals how closely is the statue of Saint John the Baptist follows it in proportions and pose.

Houdon’s Ecorché, sketch size.

An historic photo of the famous P.P. Caproni & Bro. plaster manufacturer italian skilled moldamkers. From right the foreman Leonello ‘Leo’ Toschi, Adelino Vanni and Cesare Lucchini. This photo is a gift of my dear friend Margaret Toschi Luppino.

Today, finally, one hundred eighteen years after the beautiful St. John the Baptist by the sculptor, and my dear friend, Giuseppe Ducrot with dignity fills the niche of the architect Vanvitelli. The dialogue with the Houdon’s San Bruno is perfect and the marble statue of over five meters binds to the history of the church completing the work that had begun Jean Antoine Houdon.