Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March 1: Revolutionary Wow!

Thursday, March 1 neoclassicism: Off With their Heads Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii, (17-12), Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon Crossing the Saint-Bernard, (17-13), Angelica Kauffmann, Cornelia Pointing to her Children as her Treasures,Kehinde Wiley, Napoleon,
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Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Happy Accident of the Swing, 1767, French Rococo. Unless otherwise cited, all images from wikipedia.


As we explored in our discussion of the swingin' Rococo, the mid-18th century in France displayed the lavish play and pleasure life of the French Aristocracy, so extreme in their indulgence, evident in the sumptuous depictions of the French Royals leading up to the Rococo.

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Hyacinth Rigaud, Louis XIV, 1701
Louis XIV, 'the sun king', ruled France for 72 years, during which time he created the dazzling palace of Versailles, danced in more than 40 ballets, and served as an important patron of the arts. His expertise in the political sphere meant great increases in France's international power, successes that offset his lavish personal life.  Upon his death at 81 of gangrene, his great-grandson Louis XV became king. 
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Hyacinth Rigaud's 1730 portrait of Louis XV, 'Louis the Well Beloved'.... check out the details here!
Louis XV took over title from his great grandfather at the age of 5, as you see from this 1712 portrait of the boy king, known as the dauphin as long as regents handled official business.

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Pierre Gobert, Louis xv as a boy, 1712

History gives mixed reports on Louis XV's success. Louis XIV had worked to secure absolute power for the French monarchy, which meant that the king takes the blame for failures during his reign, and during Louis xv's reign, weak performance in the War of Austrian Succession, failed attempts at reform to bring Enlightenment philosophies into practice in France, the introduction of the first ever tax on the aristocracy, and, personally, infidelity in marriage which culminated in his taking of a bourgeois (middle-class, non-royal) mistress whom many saw as meddling in French politics, Mme de Pompadour, portrayed here in perhaps the most famous of Rococo portraits. 
Francois Boucher, Mme de Pompadour, 1756, rococo.
By the time Louis XV died (of smallpox), the powerful French monarchy brought to greatest strength under Louis xiv was failing. The poor felt their powerlessness, and Louis XV's attempt to bring change to France to improve the conditions of the common people infuriated the nobility and, because unsuccessful, achieved nothing for the poor except greater awareness of their miserable situation.
Antoine-François Callet, Louis XVI, 1789

Many described Louis XVI as unimaginative and weak; true or not, he inherited the throne at a time of increasing challenge. To add to unrest on the part of commoners over poor living conditions and anger at the aristocracy over tax reform, the French choice to support the Americans in their revolution to overthrow the British greatly stressed French coffers, worsening the crisis among the poor and middle classes. Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie Antoinette, became symbols of the French absolute monarchy, and their graceless handling of politics made matters worse.

Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le brun, Marie Antoinette with a Rose, 1783

Marie Antoinette actually never said, "Let the eat cake," but the phrase has come to illustrate the powerful divide between the Aristocracy and common people leading up to the French Revolution. When Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, fearing for their lives, attempted to escape from France, they essentially sealed their fate, for many believed that Louis was seeking foreign assistance to shore up the monarchy.

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Benjamin West's Treaty of Paris, 1783, never finished as the British Delegation refused to sit. 
Curiously the French Assistance in the American Revolutionary War wounded France doubly. Not only did it do damage to the French economy, worsening conditions for the poor, it also demonstrated French support for a constitutional government, even while France remained an absolute monarchy. No matter that Louis XV and XVI had sought reform to move toward Enlightenment practices which would have increased egalitarian rule, they had failed, leaving aristocrats feeling terribly threatened and poor and bourgeoisie in full recognition of their low position. By the time of the Treaty of Paris, the French were en route to their own revolution.

They needed a painter to capture the spirit of the revolution. It certainly couldn't be anyone like Fragonard, who showed the aristocracy reveling in extravagant  play on the verge of lewdness, nor Fragonard's teacher Boucher, whose lent so much of his style to Fragonard.

François Boucher, Pan and Syrinx, 1859, Rococo. 
 But, perhaps, a different novice of François Boucher would suit.
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Jacques-Louis David, Self Portrait, 1794
Jacques-Louis David's parents sent him to be trained under Boucher, but Boucher, perhaps recognizing that his Rococo flamboyance was losing ground, sent him to study under the painter Vien, who worked in the reactionary style to Rococo...
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Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii, 1784.
, which, you may have already guessed, returned to restrained, serene, classical style. More strongly than any fine artist before him, David used his paintings to serve the cause of political propaganda.

 In this new style, the Neoclassical Style, David first used his paintings to serve the monarchy, taking commissions from King Louis XV. When revolution threatened the monarchy, he switched allegiance and began to work with Jean-Paul Marat, the journalist who provided the voice to the revolutions, and on whose orders between 16 and 40,000 people lost their heads in the guillotine.  The French legalized terror as a mode of operating in order to horrify enemies of the revolution.
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Marat's Death Mask
Many, of course, felt horror at the policies of the revolution itself. One in particular, Charlotte Corday, could no longer stomach the terror, though she was no monarchist. She drove a short kitchen knife into Marat's heart. Or close enough to his heart, anyway.
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PJA Baudry, Assassination of Marat by Charlotte Corday, 1860
 She coerced her way into Marat's office, held by his bath, because of the disfiguring skin disease from which he could only find relief in the tub. The scene caused David to paint his most powerful piece of propaganda, which washed Marat of his disfiguring scars, their accompanying blistering redness, and the distorted imperfections of his face.

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Jacques-Louis David, Death of Marat,  1793
David's painting made Marat into.....
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Jacques-Louis David, Death of Marat,  1793 NEoclassicism

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Caravaggio, Entombment, 1602 Baroque

Michelangelo, Pietá, ~1499 High Renaissance

And David went on to be the minister of propaganda for the terror, having established Jean-Paul Marat as a martyr, witnessing the execution of Marie Antoinette and Charlotte Corday, spent some time in jail, and then skillfully managed to switch his allegiance to the newly formed Republic and then on to the Consulate. (David had actually signed the papers for the execution of the husband of Joséphine, who later became Napoleon's wife.) His painting of Napoleon crossing the Alps, on one of the hotblooded steeds given to him by the Spanish King Charles, demonstrates his closeness with the Emperor.
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Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps,  1800

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Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius,  replica of 175
original

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File:Istanbul - Museo archeol. - Sarcofago di Alessandro, sec. IV a.C. - Foto G. Dall'Orto 28-5-2006 08.jpg
Alexander Sarcophagus, 4th c. bce, hellenistic
RJ Reynolds Rides into Winston-salem to save the world from tobaccolessness. to conquer the empire of tobacco? and Reynolds wrap?
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And, in an image devoid of propaganda or exaggeration, Paul Delaroche's Napoleon Crossing the Alps, 1840


David, Oath of the Horatii, 1784




Goya, The Third of May, 1812, 1814

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