AHIST 1401 Art History
Written Assignment 5
In an essay, discuss the effect of the French Revolution on painting and/or sculpture during this time. Include discussion of at least one painting or sculpture from both the Neoclassical period as well as the Romantic. Your discussion should focus on the connection the work of art had to the Revolution itself. Minimum of 400 words.
The French Revolution began in Paris in 1789 during the artistic period of Neoclassicism, a style defined by Jacques-Louis David with his popular history paintings, featuring clear, linear compositions emphasizing Classical republican virtues (Galitz, 2004). As Europe veered from a Revolution of republican idealism to bloody Napoleonic empire, and to monarchical restoration, a new, more emotional Romantic style of art replaced the rational Neoclassicism. By 1830 the republican spirit of 1789 was still strong enough that the French overthrew another monarch and established a constitutional government. In this essay, I will follow this story using four artworks, beginning with a painting released as the Revolution was just beginning.
In July 1789, the political mood in Paris reached a fever pitch when revolutionaries stormed the Bastille to begin the French Revolution. In that summer, David was just finishing his latest Neoclassical, pro-republican painting called The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons. It wasn’t a coincidence that the painting’s protagonist was a Roman hero who chose to fight and kill his monarchical sons to establish Rome as a republic (Boston College, n.d.). The revolutionary mood had been turning against King Louis XVI for years, and David captured the mood with Brutus and two previous wildly-popular history paintings depicting Classical heroes resisting tyranny. David’s political paintings were in response to the revolutionary context, and when the revolutionaries seized power, he delved into politics to become a leading revolutionary himself (Galitz, 2004).
David’s Brutus painting was banned from the annual art salon in Paris that revolutionary summer, but protesters demanded it be displayed. Brutus caused a sensation since it was such a perfect republican allegory in a city overcome by liberte, egalite and fraternite (Galitz, 2004). David’s mastery of clean lines, polished surface, simple colors, and precise linear perspective with chiaroscuro, all in-sync with the political context, made him famous. As the revolution became the reign of terror and then the Napoleonic era, David was imprisoned and barely escaped execution (Galitz, 2004).
With a lot of time in prison to think about a new direction for his art, David planned his next painting to be a statement of reconciliation, and to reflect his new attitude, he used a new style that deviated from some of his Neoclassical forms (Galitz, 2004). His The Intervention of the Sabine Women in 1799 depicts a legendary Roman war where the Sabine tribe fought for the return of their women that the Romans had abducted in a previous war. David chose this theme so he could place the women in the center of the composition as peacemakers between warring tribes, creating an allegory for the French people to stop the revolutionary in-fighting, and establishing himself as a peacemaker worthy of a second chance from Napoleon (Larouge, n.d.). The painting still had Neoclassical elements such as Greek and Roman subject matter, simple hues, clear lines, careful chiaroscuro, and minimal depth, but the composition took a slight turn away from the Neoclassical by giving women lead roles, and toward what would become the Romantic with a crowded composition of charged emotions (Larouge, n.d.).
Much European art in Napoleon’s reign, from 1800 to 1815, was controlled by the emperor himself, and with his defeat at Waterloo in 1815, European regimes attempted to put the whole revolutionary era behind them and return to monarchical rule (Forrest, 2013). Artists responded to the new mood by abandoning the rational Neoclassical and ushering in the Romantic era, which utilized looser brushwork and more emotionally expressive, energetic compositions and hues (Harris and Zucker, 2015).
By 1830, the French people once again were agitating for the end of monarchy, and their French Revolution of 1830 overthrew Charles X to replace him with his cousin Louis Philippe, who had backed the Revolution in 1790 and favored a constitutional system (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2006). One of the most famous revolutionary paintings of all time, Liberty Leading the People, was painted in the aftermath of the 1830 events by Eugene Delacroix, to reflect the continuity of the recent Revolution with the Revolution of 1789 (Dorbani, n.d.). Delacroix painted Liberty in the Romantic style, with looser brushwork and strong chiaroscuro, giving the pyramidal composition a sense of moving forward. Insurgents from multiple economic classes are depicted breaching the street barricades over their dead compatriots to charge toward a people’s victory. The connections to the 1789 Revolution are strong, with the protagonist Victory character wielding the tricolor, the three color flag from 1790 symbolizing liberte, egalite and fraternite (Dorbani, n.d.). The revolutionary flag had been banned by the monarchy since Napoleonic times, so the painting symbolized the fulfillment of French-Revolutionary ideals (Smith, n.d.).
A few years later, in 1833, during the Louis-Philippe regime, the Arc de Triomphe of Paris was to finally be finished after twenty-seven years, and the sculptor Francois Rude created his 13-meter-high masterpiece La Marseillaise for the Arc’s most prominent pedestal along the Champs-Elysees (Pollitt, 2015). The relief sculpture has an epic, Romantic-style composition with charging revolutionaries from 1792 Marseille, led by Winged Victory, as they defend the Republic and embody the Marseillaise, the anthem of the Revolution. La Marseillaise was commissioned to represent the republican revolutionary political class, to balance the other relief statues on the Arc that represent royalists and Bonapartists (Pollitt, 2015).
In conclusion, the Revolution of 1789 was such a political earthquake that the tremors were still being felt into the 1830s, and leading Neoclassical and Romantic artists created famous artworks to reflect revolutionary ideals. Thanks to these great artists, we have enduring symbols of the revolutionary era that continue to inspire us today.
Word count: 891 (not including references, citations or the rubric)
Boston College (n.d.) Jacques-Louis David: The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons. Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2017 from http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/his/CoreArt/art/neocl_dav_brutus.html
Harris B. and Zucker S. (2015). Jacques-Louis David, The intervention of the Sabine Women, Smarthistory. Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2017 from https://smarthistory.org/jacques-louis-david-the-intervention-of-the-sabine-women/
Lerouge, O. (n.d.) Jacques-Louis David, The Intervention of the Sabine Women, 1799, The Louvre, Paris. Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2017 from http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/intervention-sabine-women
Galitz, K. (2004). The Legacy of Jacques Louis David (1748-1825). Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000-. Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2017 from https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/jldv/hd_jldv.htm
Forrest, A. (2013). Napoleon: Son of the Revolution. The History Reader. St. Martin’s Press. Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2017 from http://www.thehistoryreader.com/modern-history/napoleon-son-revolution/
Harris B. and Zucker S. (2015). Jacques-Louis David, A beginner’s guide to Romanticism, Smarthistory. Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2017 from https://smarthistory.org/a-beginners-guide-to-romanticism/
Smith, W. (n.d.) Flag of France. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2017 from https://www.britannica.com/topic/flag-of-France
Encyclopedia Britannica (2006) Revolutions of 1830. Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2017 from https://www.britannica.com/event/Revolutions-of-1830
Dorbani, M. (n.d.) July 28: Liberty Leading the People. The Louvre. Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2017 from http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/july-28-liberty-leading-people
Pollitt, B. (2015). Francois Rude, La Marseillaise, in Smarthistory. Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2017 from https://smarthistory.org/rude-la-marseillaise/
Information about the artworks mentioned in the essay:
The Lictors Return to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons, by Jacques Louis David, 1789. Oil on canvas, currently on display at The Louvre, Paris. See image here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lictors_Bring_to_Brutus_the_Bodies_of_His_Sons#/media/File:David_Brutus.jpg
The Intervention of the Sabine Women by Jacques Louis David, 1799. Oil on Canvas, currently displayed at The Louvre, Paris. See image here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Intervention_of_the_Sabine_Women#/media/File:The_Intervention_of_the_Sabine_Women.jpg
Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix, 1830. Oil on canvas, 260 cm x 325 cm. Currently displayed at The Louvre, Paris. See image here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty_Leading_the_People#/media/File:Eug%C3%A8ne_Delacroix_-_Le_28_Juillet._La_Libert%C3%A9_guidant_le_peuple.jpg
The Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792) by Francois Rude. Limestone relief sculpture. Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris. See image here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7ois_Rude#/media/File:Rude_Marseillaise.jpg
Harris B. and Zucker S. (2016). Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, Smarthistory. Retrieved on Dec. 16, 2017 from https://smarthistory.org/jacques-louis-david-the-death-of-marat/