The Scale of Love

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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This picture is a fine example of Watteau’s work on an intimate scale. The title The Scale of Love (La Gamme d’Amour) comes from a print of it made several years after his death. It may be a reference to the musical scale, to the various stages of flirting and seduction, or to the music which facilitates these. The word gamme had other secondary meanings, such as knowledge, ability and custom, perhaps reinforcing the notion here of love or seduction as a skill. The sculpted bust is possibly Pythagoras, who is credited with discovering a musical scale based upon a mathematical ratio.

Watteau may have chosen the man’s fantasy theatrical costume to poetically distance the scene from his own time. The painting shows his skill in composition and as a colourist, with its warm harmonies of pink, red and russet brown.

The National Gallery, London



The Scale of Love




Oil on canvas


H 50.8 x W 59.7 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bequeathed by Sir Julius Wernher Bt, 1912

Work type



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The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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