Salamanca Students

The second of four dated paintings from the year 1860, this scene represents a rare phenomenon in Manet's painted ceuvre: it is based on a literary source. That source lies in an early eighteenth -century publication: Le Sage's Gil Blas, set in seventeenth century Spain and closely based on old Spanish texts. Le Sage tells how two students discovered a stone with a riddle for an inscription: "Here lies interred the soul of Pedro Garcias, licentiate." While one student laughs, the other finds a purse of gold beneath the stone. The moral to be drawn is that more could be found in the author's amusing tales if deeper meanings were looked for. Exactly what the hidden allegorical meaning was for Manet remains unclear. This is not made any easier by the presence, revealed by X-rays, of a half-length figure of a man in shirt-sleeves towards the lower right, Manet suppressed interpretation by painting out the figure, and adding instead a slice of still life made up of a cape topped by a wide-brimmed hat. Such a "Spanish" motif, with an added guitar, was used as the "symbol" of Manet's studio in a large still-life painting generally dated to 1862), as well as in etchings from the same year.

This painting clearly pays homage to Manet's passion for all thing Spanish, already expressed in his copies and paraphrases of his revered Velazquez -though no prototypes have so far been proposed for the poses adopted by the two students. The landscape elements suggest the Ile-de-France: more specifically the Ile Saint-Ouen, immediately north of Paris, and very close to the Manet family property at Gennevilliers. Parts of Manet's summers in the late 1850s and early 1860s must have been spent there. And his observation of that familiar landscape invaded other paintings: not only Fishing but also Dejeuner sur I'herbe of 1863.


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