Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Neo- Classicism and Romanticism in France

Romanticism (c. 1790-1850) can be defined as boasting some of the following attributes: melancholy, an expression of drama/Emotions, the heightened sense of the individual, nostalgia of the Middle Ages (usually that era anyway!) and nationalism

Because I've been catching up with my notes out of order (and pretty much working backwards) my posts are all messed up and not chronological, it is driving me mad. Just to appease my OCD  a little bit here's some other posts with a similar topic, just to tie things up a bit: Romanticism in Germany, Romanticism in England and a quick summary of the effects of the French and their tendency to throw a revolution here and there.

To give some background to the subject, a very important factor in the age of Romanticism and its rise is the philosophical thinking of the time and where it came from. Romanticism although I'm sure I've mentioned in one of the posts above, was born out of the Enlightenment in the 18th Century. Even though it was a wonderful thing (think Charles Darwin) and gave great opportunity to the scientific minds out there, it also dampened the efforts of those who had an imaginative and artistic flare somewhat. So a way to summarise it is to say that there was a lack of means for the artist (and everyone else for that matter) to reflect on themselves. This may seem a bit lame but to the people living in this era whose world had shifted from religion to science - subjective to objective - they were probably feeling a bit lost!

Now, enlightenment is believed to have 'fallen' at the same time as Napoleons defeat in 1815 (CIRCA - there are certainly examples before this where Romanticism was creeping in as it had been for some time). With this defeat is perhaps when the full effect of the warfare had time to sink in. For a long time the human race had been held in high esteem as some rational, enlightened soul yet in the wake of what was going on I think it is simply the case that the illusion began to fade. Cue Romanticism: The cult of emotion, reason and the individual.

Neoclassicism (17, on the other hand, was the very movement brought about from the enlightenment. As is recycled again and again AND again in life is the artists/architects/intellectuals belief that Greece and Rome where the peak in civilisation - so what could go better to accompany the enlightened lot of the 18th century? In art, this movement began then, and prevailed into the 19th century as the antithesis for all the movements to develop in that century.

~Neo-classicism vs. Romanticism: Antiquity vs. Modern Life.
Classicism was the reason for the avant-garde reaction: The language of the academia~

Jacques-Louis David, the oath of the Horatii 1784-5
In France, like elsewhere, you had academic painting and the avant-garde. The academies had been established largely throughout the Renaissance and because of this taught and encouraged classicism. This is an example of a French artist in the 18th century who practiced classicism, the tell tale signs are in the heroic stances of the brothers, the idealised beautiful Roman women (probably their wives), and the classical architecture. Being as large as it is in its size, means it is a  history painting (a traditional one!). It is a scene from when Rome was at war with a city called Alba Longa - a story of three brothers from a Roman family (the Horatii) promising to fight against three brothers from the Alba Longa family.

Napoleon crossing the alps, 1800
15 years later there is a noticeable mix of classicism and romanticism. The influence of the new movement is in the abstract background; it reminds me a little bit of Turner's Hannibal Crossing the Alps funnily enough. However, if you take notice of the image underneath (also by David in 1812) you will notice he isn't exactly a looker there! So, unfortunately, the only conclusion I can come up with is that David's lovely manner of painting 12 years earlier was still influenced by Alberti's belief in idealism. Other things of note is that this portrayal was clearly a form of propaganda. I don't know if its viewable like this but if zoomed in you see the names of other conquerors on the ground, only successful ones I imagine.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867)
Ingres was conscious of the emerging styles that to him were unorthodox. He fancied himself as a bit of a Jacques David. A pupil of David (and a number of others, including Joseph Rogues of whom passed on to him his admiration of Raphael), he followed the Neo-classicist tradition.

Jupiter and Thetis, 1811
This scene comes from Homer's Iliad where Thetis, a nymph and also the mum of Achilles, begs Jupiter to save her son.
This painting was painted to adhere to the rules of the French Academy; and the machoness of Jupiter is perhaps even somewhat of an allusion to the mighty Napoleon, as he would have liked everyone to think.
Large in size, just like the history paintings of the Renaissance. It has drawn influences from antiquity (Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Dionysiac figure from Pompeii), the Medieval traditions (think all the paintings/frescoes/mosaics/enamels/ivories with Christ as the Pantocrator) and contemporary images such as Flaxman's Jupiter and Thetis. Of course, the subject matter is also testament to its influences: Roman Gods. A favourite of the Romans and the Renaissance people too.

La Grande Odalisque, 1814
Whereas Thetis was dressed like a bit of a hoe in the painting above and largely went unnoticed, this nude lady kicked up a storm. Why? because she is not a character of mythology. Nudity without any 'real' reason was 'too much' for even some of the revolutionaries.
Her spine is too long and her elbow is in the wrong place. Not that I'm a massive expert in the length of spines and the location of elbows, I was told this on good authority and if you look at her for a few minutes she will appear to look just a little 'off'.
Although we know he was a big Raphael fan and we can see the softness of Raphael in this painting, it can't be defined along the same lines because to Alberti, Ingres' study of the anatomy would have been NOT classical. My lecturer reckons it was done on purpose for eroticism. Sometimes my lecturers (or most of the time) tend to throw out a lot of crazy, fast paced comments and info on art and it's difficult to grasp what they say. So to me personally don't understand the eroticism thing? is it because the manipulation of her anatomy makes her appear very slender and long? But is that sexy? who knows. Hard to define. But I've put another picture below, Bronzino's allegory with Venus and Cupid (c. 1545). It's got a definite look of it.

This btw is one of the most fascinating paintings I've seen, in my opinion anyway. If I ever get the time to catch up with the notes going back to January this one will feature :)

Theodore Gericault (1791 - 1824)
He was a self taught romantic.
Charging Chasseur, 1812
The sense of, and excuse the cliché here, 'impending doom' is as romantic as ya get. The right side of the composition, although has quite a foggy background anyway, is a million shades lighter than the thick black fog to the left. It looks to me like the black is covering over the breakage through the clouds and makes for a very gloomy picture. If there's any art boffs out there and you think I chat shit half the time then fair enough, but this is my interpretation, so get ready: Propaganda? Napoleons guy is narrowly escaping the abyss? Nationalism? Patriotism? Who knows. But this is why art is fun.

The raft of the Medusa
This is quite a significant painting in that Gericault painted it on a canvas which is the accepted size only for history paintings BUT he used it to tell a story from contemporary history - he used it as if to tell the news. It is not heroic like a history painting is meant to be. A sailor was made to sail a big ship - the medusa - he was appointed because he was a friend of Louis XIII. He wasn't too skilful to say the least and when things went wrong there were 150 left on a massive raft (the rest of the passengers, the more important ones, sailed away in safety boats). They were eventually rescued by another ship on the coast of Africa that can be seen in this painting in the horizon line to the right. Although the right side of the composition we assume to be the end of the story as they find salvation, there is a sense of time in the fact that to the left the passengers still appear to act as if they were helpless. There are dead bodies and a man going mental. The dead bodies are very Michelangelesque (Think Adam in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling!) and Gericault was known to have a nose at dead bodies in a morgue. Few survived and during their time at sea they turned to cannibalism! This is true by the way, it was like the Titanic of the 19th century.
After the century of the human as the enlightened soul, the Romantics portrayed the irrationality of human kind.

Mad Woman, 1822
Perhaps the Raft of the Medusa was the beginning of Gericault's weird fascination with the darker aspects of human nature. This is part of the 10 piece collection of portraits of mad people. His subjects look mad, and although they probably did look a bit strange on the surface anyway, these pieces are so interesting because he manages to catch the dark, scary essence of a crazy person. It's quite creepy!

Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863)
Self Portrait, 1837
Swishy swirly impasto and ruffled hair, an orangey palette and a fairly eerie look on the mans face. Eugene Delacroix's self portrait: Typical romanticism (I like to think it is also a bit of a hint of the forthcoming impressionists too, like Turner's work.)

Massacre at Chios, 1824
Just like Gericault, he painted a contemporary issue: Greece trying to rebel against the Ottoman empire. With all the disturbances going on throughout Europe the romantics were mourning the soul of the human race. An interpretation could be that Greece, as the 'cradle' of civilisation, was probably seen as pure - after all the Renaissance strived to revive their society (all of antiquity in general). Now, consider the purest of the pure, and then attack them with the contemporary enemy: Muslims. (I'm contextualising don't shoot me from atop your high horses.) This would have made the 19th century folk feel melancholy and a bit useless. Like turner's Hannibal, there is a large focus on the surroundings. Not on the same scale of course because the figures here are clearly of importance but the fact that the landscape takes up half the composition remains, and makes the people look small!

Dante and Virgil crossing the styx, 1822
Dante's Inferno, something I want to read! My little brother read it for his A Level English and apparently it's not the easiest thing to understand. So maybe Dan Brown's interpretation in his Inferno will have to do until I have a Shakespearian grasp of English. Such a good book!! seriously read it.
But, the styx are one of Dante's stages of the inferno and you can see all the doomed bodies that they are passing over. I can't remember exactly, because it's a lot of information, but each stage of hell is representative of a crime, each getting worse (in the eyes of the Christian) as they make the descent further into hell.
I like this one quite a lot, not because of Dante and Virgil themselves though; because to me the painterly surface of their clothes looks too smooth to be in this painting and way too bright. But the background is good because I take it as an accurate depiction of the inferno. There has not been any academically inspired MASSIVE effort to depict the scene of Dante's inferno as is described down to a T, but I think the abstract serves it even better. Considering the romantics and their desire to search within themselves I think the subject matter is also very apt. Nothing like souls wandering through the inferno.

Death of Sardanapolus, 1827
Based on a poem by Byron and therefore a classicistic subject; but romanticism has a tendency to be more expressive, (and this is far more tragic than it would have been had it been painted by a classicist). I suppose because the figures aren't so idealised the pain appears more raw. The idea of the hero fades away and with it the falseness of these characters. Therefore in this, the death of the people is closer to home than the idea of heroes being martyred or something to that effect.

Liberty Leading the people 1830
Mentioned this one before, here. But seeing as it's relevant again. Revolves around the second revolution in France when Charles X was replaced by Louis - Philippe I to reform the parliament (he never did). Shows how it was the century where the middle class began to gain consciousness to social hierarchy. The smoke is a common theme in romanticism, they all loved the sense of ambiguity that smoke brings. Well, I think so anyway considering how much they use it. I guess you could compare it with a magician disappearing in a puff of smoke, it makes everything mysterious, ha.

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