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Jean-Baptiste Oudry
French, Paris, 1734
Brush and black ink and gray wash, heightened with white gouache on blue paper
12 1/4 x 10 1/4 in.

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This drawing by Jean-Baptiste Oudry illustrates a fable by poet Jean de La Fontaine. The fable is based on a myth told in Niccolò Machiavelli's novel Mandragola.

Pluto, the ruler of the underworld, sits above his subjects in the fiery depths of Hades; the demon Belphagore stands before him. As the drawing shows, he is about to send Belphagore to earth to find the answer to an eternal question: whether spouses influence their mates to sin. In the guise of a rich merchant, Belphagore forces a woman to marry him. She is in love with another man, however, and escapes with him. Even after Belphagore disguises himself again and tries to seduce her, she stays virtuous.

Employed as a tapestry designer by day, Oudry worked after hours over a five-year period to produce 276 illustrations for De La Fontaine's Fables. The drawings are rich in contrast, with dark ink and white heightening on blue paper. Oudry rendered them in meticulous detail, with loose and inventive brushwork. He eventually sold the drawings, which were published in a luxury edition of La Fontaine's Fables in 1755.