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The Grand Style in
Landscape and History Painting
Poussin, Lorrain, Reynolds, and David
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Let me suggest, then, that there are three types of landscape painting that you should learn to recognize. The first, though it is not first chronologically, may be termed "topographical," and it is represented by Gainsborough in this painting. It is realistic, but while it connects landowners with their land, it does so by emphasizing the landowner, much as Jonson does in his poetic description of Penshurst. Later in the century, and in the next slide presentation on landscape painting, we will see a further change when the land and the human figures in the landscape have more to do with common laborers than ownership. The second type of landscape painting is represented by Watteau and Fragonard, who idealize landscape but place contemporary aristocratic figures in it. You should see connections to Pope's poetry here. The third type is also idealized, but its subjects are mythological and scriptural, and you might make connections to Denham's Cooper's Hill and Pope's Windsor Forest and to the essays of Addison. This third type is what we will concentrate on today in the pictures of Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain.
Watteau Embarkation from Cythera (1717)
- You should remember Watteau's Embarkation from Cythera from the last slide show. It depicts lovers leaving the island of love, and the figures are in various ideal postures. What I'd like you to notice this time is that, while the lovers are in contemporary 18th-century dress, the subject of the painting is mythological. Lovers were either summoned by Venus or made their pilgrimage to the island to have their love blessed by the goddess. The island itself was supposed to have magical properties, right down to the landscape, which had hills shaped like a woman's breasts, and which centered on a fountain that sprang from a rock resembling the female genitalia. The landscape as you see it, however, is naturalistic in appearance even if the subject matter is ideal. This is the type of landscape painting referred to as champêtre (literally "pastoral"), as opposed to the type referred to as heroic, which is far more idealized and which you will see more clearly in the works of Poussin and Lorrain. For our purposes in this class, the central message of this painting has to do with the desire of 18th-century aristocrats to see themselves in a pastoral landscape, to connect themselves with the pure lives of shepherds and shepherdesses in the same way that Pope uses the literary pastoral form.
Gainsborough Robert Andrews and His Wife (1748)
- Of course, as we discussed when we talked about Gay's Shepherd's Week, the real life of shepherds and farmers in 18th-century Europe was far from ideal, and the aristocrats who lived part of the year in London and part of the year on their country estates lived a very different life from real shepherds. This painting, which you should also remember from last time, by the English painter Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), reflects the realism of the life of the landed gentry, and what you may notice here is that the landowner and his possessions, his wife and his land, are depicted together. There is nothing of the ideal in this picture, and yet there is none of the rusticity of the characters of Gay's Shepherd's Week either.
Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) French
Nicolas Poussin believed that a painter acquired painterly skill by intense observation rather than by exhaustive copying. In his own practice, he made sketches of landscapes, architecture, and sculpture, but he did no detailed studies. Instead, he looked to history and literature texts to get a sense of the ideas behind the other art forms, both physical and verbal. He made it a point to familiarize himself with classical literature and the classical theories behind musical composition, oratory, and architecture. You should be hearing echoes of Sir Joshua Reynolds's Discourses here, especially "Discourse III."
Poussin believed that ancient forms were not just to be used by a painter for circumstantial reasons but to represent the general idea of classical perfection. His art is based not so much on direct response either to historical and literary accounts or to actual landscapes as on his own reflection about the meaning of those things. It is evident from a comparative study of his sketches and finished paintings that he subdued his impulses toward spontaneous feelings when doing a picture. His paintings, then--unlike Watteau's and Fragonard's, which you saw examples of last time--aren't graceful, amorous showpieces but dramatic representations of psychological problems and historical or mythological events.
Empire of Flora (1629)
- Poussin's Empire of Flora, for example, is a study of mythological characters all of whom are victims of their own passions. Flora, surrounded by putti in the center of the painting, is the center of a larger circle of victims: on the left Ajax falls on his sword; next to him Narcissus stares at his reflection in an urn of water; above Narcissus Clytie raises her face to the sky where her disinterested lover Apollo drives his chariot, disdainful of her pining; across the picture Hyacynthus raises his left arm to the mortal wound in his head received while sporting with Apollo; next to him the hunter Adonis, with his spear and dogs, points to a wound in his thigh where he was gored by a boar; and at the lower right are Crocus and the shepherdess Smilax who were turned into a flower and a yew tree because of the impatience of their love. A herm of Priapus, the god of gardening, oversees the scene on the left. Note that the figures are highly stylized and are shown in generic dress or undress.
Bacchanalian Revel before a Herm of Pan (1636)
- This second picture is of the same sort. Notice that the landscape is simply a backdrop for the central human figures and the story they tell. This picture does not depict a particular mythological event or contain recognizable mythological figures other than Pan, but it is interesting to us for at least one important reason. Poussin at about the same time painted a picture of the children of Israel worshipping the golden calf. The three central figures, the dancers, in this slide match almost exactly but in reversed form the central dancers in the biblical painting. Poussin only added a few details: at the left, instead of simply trailing her hand behind her in the dance, the bacchante squeezes grapes into a cup held by a fat little boy; on the right, a satyr assaults another laughing bacchante as her friend looks on good-humoredly. What you should notice is the easy transference of images from religious to secular, something that happens in most of the poems we have read in this class.
Et in Arcadia Ego (1642)
- Et in Arcadia Ego depicts three shepherds in the golden age discussing with a woman the inscription on a tomb--"I also am in Arcadia." Notice how idealized the shepherds and woman are in dress and how carefully composed the landscape is. Notice also that the inscription works a number of ways: it suggests, like Pope's "Winter," that death is an integral part of ideal nature; it also suggests that the painter and the viewer may be transported to the golden age through art forms.
The Funeral of Phocion (1648)
- In this final painting by Poussin, The Funeral of Phocion, not only should you notice the careful composition and the use of architecture in depicting the city of Athens in the background, but note the more subdued light and the earth tones. While the painting is obviously carefully constructed and its elements crystal clear, it gives a feeling of nostalgia. Its subject is the funeral of a statesman who refused to give in to bribery and who was as a result condemned to death and an unworthy burial. The colors themselves could suggest a longing for a time when ideals were held highly, when everything about society was pure and heroic. Phocion is being celebrated here--what the world has become is being mourned. You might think of connections to Antony's and Cleopatra's attitude toward Rome at the end of All For Love. The new world of Rome, represented by "cold" Octavia and "calculating" Octavius, is "the world well-lost."
Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) French
If Poussin distinguishes layers of light and space, more often than not using clean light that reflects rather than saturates, Claude Lorrain diffuses light to create a more sentimental scene. Poussin fixes details with obvious geometrical precision, a technique that presents human beings as superior to nature. Even the relation of his figures to the landscape reveals the primacy of human life. Lorrain's landscapes emphasize nature itself, and it is a nature that, even more than Poussin's Funeral of Phocion, evokes a longing for the golden age. The figures of Claude, while they may be just as mythological or historical, reflect the general mood. Here Claude echoes scenes from the pastoral poetry of Virgil and Theocritus, the classical models for Pope's poems.
Landscape with a River or The Mill (1631)
- Note in the Landscape with a River Claude presents a range of activities--the goatherd milking, the boatmen loading, the artist sketching. Note also the range of architecture--the fallen columns on which the artist sits across the river from the mill bathed in early morning light. Read one way, this painting suggests that while the subject of painting is new, the foundation is classical. Read another way, the light of dawn bathing the scene, this picture suggests a shift in landscape art--a shift toward mood and away from the even light of a noonday sun. Claude's influences here in these early paintings are northern European artists, who painted such countryside scenes, rather than Italian artists who painted primarily scenes from mythology and scripture. But Claude's use of light is his own development, and he carries it into his later paintings that deal with more dignified subjects.
The Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca (1648)
- Compared to the cast of characters in Poussin's Empire of Flora, the group dancing here seems dwarfed by the landscape. In fact, it seems that the text from the Hebrew Scriptures serves as an excuse to paint a landscapethat looks remarkably like the countryside around Rome. This picture, like the previous one, is also titled The Mill. So the picture can be enjoyed by a viewer who doesn't know the Isaac and Rebecca story, but it takes on double meaning for a viewer who does.
Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba (1648)
- The Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba painted in the same year depicts a scene from the story of the Queen, who having heard of the fame of Solomon, comes to test his wisdom. This subject is rare in art, and Claude makes it rarer still by turning her overland voyage into a sea voyage. The rising sun suggests the unknown journey ahead of the Queen, and its light falls on the tops of the columns while the steps where the Queen stands are still in darkness. It is worthwhile to point out the structural elements of the painting here which may not be readily apparent. The mast of the Queen's ship is precisely on the center line of the painting, and the lines of perspective that you can see on the steps and balconies of the palace lead directly to the ship. The painting is also divided into five equal sections both horizontally and vertically: the horizon is two-fifths up from the bottom, for example, and the palace on the right and the ruined building on the left each take up one-fifth of the width. What appears to be realistic, therefore, is highly formal. Addison would say that this picture is pleasing because it is proportional and symmetrical as well as true to our memories of what nature looks like.
David at the Cave of Adullam (1658)
- On the right side of the canvas David gestures his refusal to drink the water brought to him in a helmet by the three heroes in the center, who broke through the ranks of the Philistines to bring it to their king. (David and his soldiers had been without water for some time as they hid from the enemy.) This painting celebrates the heroism of the soldiers as well as the Stoic values of David, much as Poussin's image of Phocion celebrated similar "ancient virtues." It should occur to you that the Temple of Ancient Virtue at Stowe serves as a similar reminder to visitors to the garden there.
Landscape with Psyche at the Palace of Cupid (1664)
- This painting was re-titled The Enchanted Castle in 1782, and in a later slide lecture you will see a painting by Turner that is based on it. The classical myth behind the painting goes as folows. Cupid falls in love with Psyche, and Zephyr wafts her gently to his palace. There, in darkness, forbidding her to know his identity, Cupid makes love to her. As he sleeps, she defies his command and lights a lamp. A drop of oil from the lamp awakens him, he discovers her treachery, and he abandons her. Anguished, Psyche thows herself into the nearby river but, not wanting to cause her death, the river casts her back onto its bank. It is not clear whether Lorrain wished to portray Psyche before or after her encounter with Cupid. You might speculate on that. What I'd like you to note here is that this is not an image of the classical world as Poussin would have painted it. Poussin would probably have been more formal and emblematic, and his picture would probably have had more in common with Pope's pastoral poems than with Thomson's. To put it another way, Poussin's landscape would have more in common with Denham's Cooper's Hill and Lorrain's with Dyer's Grongar Hill.
Mount Parnassus with Apollo and the Muses (1680)
- I include this picture both because it depicts a mythological landscape and because it draws another connection between the sister arts of painting and poetry. Apollo and the Muses here are enthroned in a landscape the beauty and splendor of which would seem to inspire both poetry and art. Note that the point of view is up on the mountain with the Muses and that the viewer can look out into the vast distance on the left side of the picture. You may remember Pope's lines from Essay on Criticism about the critics who "haunt Parnassus but to please the ear / Not mend the mind, as some to Church repair, / Not for the Doctrine, but the Music there." This painting, which allows the viewer to "haunt Parnassus," provides food for thought as well as a feast for the eye.
Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) British
The first two paintings of Reynolds that I'd like for you to see are idealized figures representing abstract concepts. In July 1777 Reynolds agreed to a proposal that he design windows to be painted for the gothic chapel of New College, Oxford. He planned to show the three Christian Virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity) flanked by the four Cardinal Virtues (Temperance, Fortitude, Justice, and Prudence). Though the College required only drawings that would then be executed on the glass by another painter, Reynolds produced finished paintings.
Allegorical portraits allowed atists to portray women in roles outside their normally restricted occupations, as well as to take on the attributes of the Goddess or orhter figure represented. Artists could indulge in a greater degree of idealization andchoose settings and props suitable for the situation. In doing this they moved the portrait genre closer to that of history painting.
- "Justice" seems as finely balanced in her body as in her thoughts. And notice that the shadow falling across her eyes serves as a substitute for the traditional blindfold without obscuring her face. The point of the blindfold is, of course, that Justice is not swayed by superficial evidence, and Reynolds indicates that she has eyes only for the balance in her left hand. Note that in her right hand, held gently but surely, is her sword, and the highlights of paint along its edge suggest its keenness. Think of the images of judgment that Pope uses in his Essay on Criticism, and note that you can find a number of them depicted here.
- In a period when female personifications were designed primarily to please the eye, as in the picture of Justice, Reynolds created a "Fortitude" whose pose and facial expression clearly suggest gravity, resolution, and independence. The tips of her fingers rest on a broken but untoppled column, another metaphor for her abstract concept, and she wears a helmet. What you cannot tell just by looking at the figure is that her clothing is draped around her in an exact copy of the drapery of an antique marble statue of Juno. In painting an abstract ideal, then, Reynolds copied a real representation of an ideal figure.
Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse (1789)
- Sarah Siddons (1755–1831) was the best-known tragedienne on the British stage in the 18th century. In 1774, Siddons won her first success as Belvidera in Thomas Otway's Venice Preserved. Unable to sustain her early success in London, she worked for the next several years in provincial companies (in particular York and Bath), gradually building up a reputation. Her next London appearance, at the Drury Lane Theater, in October 1782, made her an immediate sensation playing the title role in Thomas Southerne's Isabella, or, The Fatal Marriage. In the succeeding years, her most famous role was that of Lady Macbeth; it was the grandeur of her emotions as she expressed Lady Macbeth's murderous passions that held her audiences spellbound. In Lady Macbeth she found the highest and best scope for her acting abilities. She was tall and had a striking figure, brilliant beauty, powerfully expressive eyes, and solemn dignity of demeanour which enabled her to claim the character as her own. After Lady Macbeth she played Desdemona, Rosalind, Ophelia and Volumnia, all with great success; and for the next twenty years she was the undisputed queen of Drury Lane. Her celebrity status has been called "mythical" and "monumental," and by "the mid-1780s Siddons was established as a cultural icon." She mixed with the literary and social elites of London society, and her acquaintances included Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke. In 1802 she left Drury Lane and subsequently appeared from time to time on the stage of the rival establishment, Covent Garden. It was there, on 29 June 1812, that she gave perhaps the most extraordinary farewell performance in theatre history. She was playing her most famous role, Lady Macbeth, and the audience refused to allow the play to continue after the end of the sleepwalking scene. Eventually, after tumultuous applause from the pit, the curtain reopened and Siddons was discovered sitting in her own clothes and character--whereupon she made an emotional farewell speech to the audience lasting eight minutes. Reynolds signed his portrait of Mrs. Siddons on the hem of her dress, "for," he told her, "I have resolved to go down to posterity on the hem of your garment."
Mrs. Hale as Euphrosyne (1764)
- Reynolds mixed the real, the ideal, and the mythological in his portraits, as you might expect from what he says about the grand style of painting in his "Discourse III." But the painter was not the only one to contribute to the composition of a painting. Edwin Lascelles, first Earl of Harewood, and brother-in-law to Mary Chaloner, later Mrs Hale, was busy in the early 1760s working with Robert Adam, the great architect and interior designer, on his house in Yorkshire. Commissioned for the music room of this house was the painting you see here: Mrs Hale as Euphrosyne. Euphrosyne, or "good cheer," was one of the Three Graces, companions of Venus who were represented clothed as well as nude in ancient art. The fact that the engraving made from this painting was entitled L'Allegro suggests that in addition Reynolds had in mind Milton's famous poem of that name, which features the "goddess fair and free" and "the frolic wind" which here in the painting tugs at her fashionable clothes and causes a wisp of her hair to fly free. Milton's lines run: "Haste thee, Nymph, and bring with thee / Jest and youthful Jollity." Mrs Hale's pose has been traced by art historians both to Raphael's Saint Margaret in the Louvre as well as to the well-known portrait of the Countess of Ranelagh by Sir Godfrey Kneller hanging in the series of his "Beauties" at Hampton Court. The revelers in the distance at the bottom right of the picture derive from Poussin.
Lady Bampfylde (1776)
- In this marriage portrait, Lady Bampfylde's flowing white robes, and the white lily she points towards, serve as familiar emblems of purity. As I noted in my introductory lecture to this course, Lady Bampfylde's pose is a witty adaptation--in reverse--of the famous statue of the Venus de Medici. Like that of Venus, Lady Bampfylde's gesture is ambivalent in that she both covers up and displays her beauties at once. The Tate Gallery commentary on this painting notes that Reynolds's idealised image belied the fact that Lady Bampfylde's marriage was not happy. Even before he succeeded to the baronetcy, her husband had frittered away two-thirds of his inheritance, and rumours abounded of her extravagance and infidelity. Given the ambivalence of the original statue, however, Reynolds's portrait is remarkably revealing.
Lady Sarah Bunbury Sacrificing to the Graces (1765)
- Here is another portrait that joins the real and the mythological and is part of a fashionable trend: sacrificial themes of this type were popular. Lady Sarah casts her offering on the flames before a sculpture of the Three Graces, who are grouped in a symbolic representation of perfect friendship. Behind Lady Sarah kneels Lady Susan Fox Strangways, her close friend, filling her own censer to pour on the altar. Roses climbing the pedestal of the sculpture suggest the pleasure and charm that exists in friendship, while the nudity of the Graces suggests that friendship conceals nothing and is without deceit. The evergreen myrtle branch held out by one of the graces signifies that friendship never dies. All of this dignified mythological and symbolic content may be undercut by the report by a friend of Reynolds's that "Lady Sarah never did sacrifice to the Graces; her face was gloriously handsome, but she used to play cricket and eat beefsteaks on the Steyne at Brighton." It is also ironic that Lady Sarah had an affair with and bore the child of another man, and even though her husband Sir Charles wished to take her back after she had left her lover they remained separated and were divorced several years later. So much for eternal friendship, and so much for the prominence in this painting of Lady Sarah's wedding ring.
Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) French
David is known and was known in his own time as the premier painter of the French Revolution. We will be looking at a few of his paintings that helped raise the consciousness of the French as they moved toward revolution and others that celebrate heroes and events of the revolution itself. But before turning to David's paintings, I think it is very important to remind you about the different courses of English and French history and to suggest reasons why the English revolution of 1688 was bloodless while the French revolution of 1789 was as bloody as they come.
Some of you have been troubled from time to time in the past several weeks with what you see, and see correctly, as the overtly proud declarations of men like Dryden, Addison, Pope, and Johnson. These men felt it their right and duty to proclaim to the less-educated masses what they had learned about aesthetics and manners and morals through their own education, experience, and reason. When I say proud, however, I refer to a pride that was not particularly personal. Now, to be sure, when Pope wrote his Essay on Criticism or any of his other poems, for that matter, he was to a certain extent showing off his talents. Nevertheless, the ideas Pope promotes are not his own but those of the most celebrated classical thinkers, writers, and artists. Furthermore, the ideas Pope (and Addison and Johnson) promote are ideas embedded in Greek democracy and Roman republicanism. While it is certainly true that Dryden's and Wycherley's plays support the king's right to rule and the general idea of a strong monarchy, others of our writers did not speak for the monarchy or for the aristocracy. Many were supported by wealthy landowners, some of whom were Tories and some of whom were Whigs. Others were self-supporting. The point is that in England, as opposed to France, the wealthy and educated classes did not separate themselves entirely from the rest of the population but instead took on the role, proud as it might have been, of being a guide to the less educated and less fortunate. Furthermore, that the Whigs gained power over the Tories during the last decades of the Stuart monarchy weakened the monarch's power, but as a result there was no revolution because there was no one but a weakened monarch to revolt against and because the leadership role taken on by the wealthy focused on endorsing conservative, republican values.
In some ways, the split between the Tories and Whigs in English political history throughout the last decades of the Stuart monarchy is similar to the split that existed between two factions in the French Academie of Art at around the turn of the 18th century. One faction, the colorists, celebrated the lives and interests of the upper classes and the monarch. This faction is represented by Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard. The opposing faction, which focused more on subject matter, was strictly neoclassical. It took Poussin as its model and grew in reaction to what it saw as the frivolity and shallowness of the colorists. You might remember that Fragonard's series on the Progress of Love was painted for the salon of the chateau of the king's mistress. Jacques Louis David was the central figure in this neoclassical school, and we can see clearly in his paintings the moral lesson to be taught and the sense that heroism requires not just strength but virtue. If it helps to look at this theoretical opposition in French painting in another way, you might associate the colorists with the Horner plot in Wycherley's The Country Wife and the moralists with the Alithea/Harcourt plot in the same play. At any rate, both in England and in France, in literature and in painting, the moralists won the battle. The battle was simply fought a hundred years earlier in England.
The Death of Socrates (1787)
- Let me remind you of slides that you have already seen today to emphasize the concept of imitation. Just as neo-classicism is an imitation of classicism, within the neo-classical movement there are other imitations. David can easily be termed a neo-Poussinist in that he reacted against the reactionary frivolity of Watteau and the other colorists. This reverse reaction is a common phenomenon--a sort of "grandparent affinity" that, for example, has occurred in my family in politics for generations: my grandparents were staunch democrats, my parents republicans, my sisters and I democrats, and so on. At any rate, I thought it might be useful to look again at Poussin's Funeral of Phocion (1648) as a prelude to looking at David's Death of Socrates (1787). The two subjects are similar, but you may notice important changes in their portrayal. Sir Joshua Reynolds, an old man when he saw David's picture at its first display, pronounced it "in every sense perfect." How does the picture illustrate the "grand style"? First of all, even more so than Poussin's, it is simpler in composition. The scene is indoors with fewer planes of activity and fewer human figures. In addition, those figures are more prominent, and so the message conveyed is more strident--the individual will is sacrificed to the good of the community.
The Lictors Bringing to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons (1789)
- The most important painting in 1789, the year of the revolution in France, was David's The Lictors Bringing to Brutus the Bodies of his Sons. Brutus, the founder of the Roman Republic, drove out the kings and allowed his own sons to be put to death as their punishment for betraying the Republic. The political message is unmistakable, as unmistakable as the message carried by Pope's Windsor Forest: history repeats itself and certain values are universal. If David can get his viewing audience to agree that Brutus did the right thing in supporting community values over personal ones, in celebrating sacrifice in the name of the Republic, even the sacrifice of death, then they must also affirm the values of the revolutionaries.
This picture weds a strong fresh message and a strong tradition. Like the portraits of Reynolds, this picture has its roots not just in idea but in form. The head of Brutus is copied from the Capitoline bust, and the statue of Roma from an antique original. The interior decorations of the room and even the dress of the human figures are all archaeologically correct and exact. What is also interesting is that the painting looked forward as well as backward, that it was both influenced by tradition and the source of a new tradition: during the revolution, dress, coiffure, and furniture as it appeared in the picture were copied in real life. One final point remains to be made here, and it is one that you will see carried out in the next slide as well. The figures of the women, marginalized in their emotion by being set off to one side, suggest that anything feminine, weak, and personal has the potential to get in the way of high ideals. Note the connection to Dryden's All For Love.
The Oath of the Horatii (1784)
- David's most famous painting, The Oath of the Horatii was painted a few years before the revolution and, thus, before the previous two paintings I have showed you, but I put it here in the sequence for two reasons. I wanted to use it as a sort of summary of David's pre-revolutionary work and also as a transition to his work that celebrates the revolution and its results. Notice the central place of the hilts of the swords in this picture. Notice that the serious and sober coloring would be reminiscent of Spartan values. Notice that David follows in his composition the unities of time, place, and action so that the focus of the story is entirely clear and precise.
The Tennis Court Oath (1790)
- In the fall of 1790, David was commissioned to paint the event of the Tennis Court Oath, when representatives of the "third estate" swore never to part until they had accomplished their ends--an event that marks the opening act of the Revolution. David had already learned how to combine exact observation with the feeling of the monumental, but his pictures up until this point had been primarily those of small groups of stylized figures. Now he had to create a unified scene of one hundred excited gesticulating men, all dressed in contemporary costume, and each of whom needed to be recognizable. Notice, however, the representation of space in the middle of all that business. The upper two-thirds of the picture is enlivened only by the windows and draperies, but the vacuum above throws focus on the group below: in the main group President Bailly is raised high above the rest on a table, his arm uplifted. The delegates surround him on all sides, their arms outstretched as they call to him and take their oath. It is the gesture of the Horatii, multiplied and freed somewhat from its stiffness, though still heroic and stylized. We might be tempted to say that David has painted both the individual and the species, or the individual within the species here.
The Death of Marat (1793)
- In 1793, David painted one of his three "martyrs" of the Revolution, Marat, who was murdered by Charlotte Corday. He does not picture the actual murder, however, but shows Marat dead in the same context in which David had seen him alive the day before, in his bathtub with a block of wood close by on which he was writing down his thoughts, as David says "for the good of the people. . . . I thought", David says, "that it would be interesting to show him in the attitude in which I had discovered him." Here in this painting, too, we can see David's inherent power of realism in his ability to seize a likeness, but it is combined in the sense of the ideal that Reynolds talks about with a stylistic simplicity that his classical education had taught him. Notice again how the upper portion of the canvass is impressively empty. Our attention is thus drawn to the head of the murdered man rising out of the long narrow box as if it were a coffin, perhaps as if it were Lazarus rising. Marat's head is indeed thrown back in death agony, and we can see the wound in his breast, even in shadow. Realism in this case, however, is not photographic. It is conceptual. Notice also that, as in The Tennis Court Oath the subject is contemporary, not mythological or distantly historical. Contemporary heroes are portrayed in the posture of ancient heroes and, by association, share the same values.
John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, firstname.lastname@example.org