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Lady Reading the Letters of Heloise and Abelard

A work made of oil on canvas.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of oil on canvas.


c. 1780


Auguste Bernard d’Agesci (French, 1756–1829)

About this artwork

This painting depicts a young woman lost in reverie after reading the letters of the ill-fated medieval lovers Heloise and Abelard. The objects on the table beside her—a letter, a sheet of music, and a book of erotic poetry—hint at a life of leisure and a susceptibility to love. In this early picture, Auguste Bernard drew upon history paintings by Peter Paul Rubens and Charles Le Brun, as well as Parisian traditions of genre painting and portraiture pioneered by Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Bernard worked in Paris in the early 1780s and studied in Italy for several years. Upon his return to Paris, he found his career frustrated by the French Revolution and the emergent fashion for the more austere Neoclassical style.


On View, Gallery 216


Painting and Sculpture of Europe


Auguste Bernard, called Bernard d'Agesci


Lady Reading the Letters of Heloise and Abelard


France (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Oil on canvas


Inscribed on the leaves of the open book: HELOISE, ABEL; on the spine of the closed book: LART / DAIME / DE / BERNA


81.3 × 64.8 cm (32 × 25 1/2 in.); Framed: 105.5 × 89.9 × 11.5 cm (41 1/2 × 35 3/8 × 4 1/2 in.)

Credit Line

Mrs. Harold T. Martin Fund; Lacy Armour Endowment; Charles H. and Mary F.S. Worcester Collection

Reference Number


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