Jean-François de Troy was born into a dynasty of painters, and trained in Paris by his father, the distinguished portraitist, François de Troy (1645-1730). Wealthy and well-connected, de Troy was sent to Rome at his family’s expense in 1698, where he briefly attended the French Academy before leaving for Venice and Pisa. He remained in Italy for seven years, within two years of his return to Paris in 1706, he was climbing the ranks of the Academy, and went on to enjoy commissions for the palaces at Versailles and Fontainebleau. In 1738, he moved back to Rome as Director of the French Academy, then housed at Palazzo Mancini, and stayed there for the rest of his life.
This picture, previously unrecorded in literature on de Troy, would seem to belong a series of the seven Liberal Arts, of which four others are known, each signed and dated 1733: the circular Allegory of Music and Allegory of Poetry (both Museum of Art, Portland), Allegory of Prudence (Private collection, Paris) and Allegory of Painting (sold Christie’s New York, 23 January 2004, lot 66, $175,500), see C. Leribault, Jean-François de Troy (1679-1752), Paris, pp. 330-1, nos. P.212-215. Even though these pictures are of different sizes, it is possible that they belonged to the same decorative cycle; the varied formats may have been necessitated by wall panelling. The sculpture of Silenus and the Infant Dionysus, a Roman statue discovered near the Quirinal in Rome in the 16th century, was much celebrated, and frequently reproduced, in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was probably a copy of a Greek bronze and is now housed in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.