Born on 10 March 1628 in Troyes in north-central France, François Girardon studied Antiquity in Rome. After that, he studied at the Royal Academy in Paris and was admitted to the academy as a member in 1657. Later, he met Bernini, credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture that involves dynamic movement and energy of human forms. However, Girardon moved toward classicism and the models of ancient Roman sculpture. In 1650, he became a member of the group of artists, led by Charles Le Brun, commissioned to decorate the new royal park of the Chateau of Versailles, during the period of King Louis XIV.
During that time, Girardon created the sculpture of Apollo served by the Nymphs between 1667 and 1675. The sculpture, composed of seven figures was initially intended to be installed in the middle of the Tethys grotto at Versailles and supposed to be placed overlooking the new royal park of the Chateau of Versailles, but subsequently, it was relocated in the grotto designed by Hubert Robert in the 18th century.
The composite sculpture of Apollo served by the Nymphs involves seven separate marble statues, depicting the Sun god Apollo surrounded by nymphs, which exemplifies with exceptional clarity the French interpretation of the baroque style in sculpture, a more sober approach based upon the sculpture of antiquity. The group is the most purely classical work in French seventeenth-century sculpture and the inspiration for this pictorial sculptural work seems to be derived partly from Hellenistic sculpture and partly from Nicolas Poussin’s paintings.
While he was working on the commission, Girardon made a second trip to Rome for inspiration from antique sources and the direct inspiration of Hellenistic work is strikingly evident in the depiction of the partially nude figures and the treatment of the draperies. However, as there was no example in the ancient world to assemble several large pieces of free-standing sculpture into one unified composition, he had to depend on the paintings of Nicolas Poussin, regarded as the great French baroque classical artist.
However, this idea of assembling several different parts and linking them together into one, is clearly a Baroque device. Nevertheless, due to the elegance of its figures, the composition became an iconic piece of Classical statuary of the 17th century.
Today, it may seem tough to properly judge the composite sculpture of Apollo served by the Nymphs, as it was relocated in the late eighteenth century in a rather new picturesque setting of rocks and ruins designed by Hubert Robert and the arrangement of the figures in the group was altered. According to an old engraving, originally the group was installed in an enclosed niche, flanked by two other similar niches, which contained the horses of Apollo carved by Guérin and the Marsy brothers.