The Four Parts of the World Holding the Celestial Sphere

Jean-Baptiste Carpeauxcirca 1872

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Paris, France

Baron Haussmann, the prefect of Paris who gave the city the face we know today, commissioned Carpeaux to design a fountain for the Luxembourg Gardens in 1867. The sculptor chose the theme of the four parts of the world turning around the celestial sphere. Not only are the four allegories dancing in a ring, but they are also revolving on the spot.

Europe scarcely touches the ground, Asia, with her long pigtail, is seen almost from the back, Africa is in a three-quarter view and America, wearing a feather headdress, is facing the spectator but her body is turned to the side. This taste for movement is one of the features of Carpeaux's art. His passionate nature was quite the contrary of Neoclassic serenity. It was not until 1874, a year before Carpeaux died, that the bronze fountain was set up on the designated site.

The tangle of legs displeased the public of the time. Two of the busts exist as separate works. Carpeaux turned the Chinese woman into a man and reproduced the statue in several different materials. The figure of Africa gave rise to a bust that Carpeaux exhibited with the inscription Why be born a slave? This reference to the abolition of slavery is also visible in the statue: America is standing on the broken chain of slavery wrapped around Africa's ankle.


  • Title: The Four Parts of the World Holding the Celestial Sphere
  • Creator Lifespan: 1827 - 1875
  • Creator Nationality: French
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Date Created: circa 1872
  • Sculptor: Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
  • Provenance: Bought in 1889
  • Physical Dimensions: w1770 x h2800 x d1450 cm
  • Original Title: Les quatre parties du monde soutenant la sphère céleste
  • Credit Line: © RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Philippe Bernard
  • Type: Plaster Model
  • Rights: © RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Philippe Bernard
  • External Link: https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections

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