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Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Intermission, part 5

The narrative began with Act 1, scene 1 on April 10, 2013.
To access all scenes, scroll to blog archive at the bottom of the page.

This intermission attempts to track the connected artistic 'lineage' of some influential painters, from the early 15th century to the present. To follow this thread and to see all images mentioned, 
go back to part 1 of this intermission.

The 18th century and the Enlightenment saw a burgeoning interest in the classical periods of ancient Rome and Greece. Architects often studied the ruins in Rome, for example (as Brunelleschi had done in the early Quattrocento), and created new designs to reflect a widespread admiration for the ancients. Robert Adam and Piranesi (known for his etchings - perfected under the influence of Venetian artists) were two such architects.

The affection for things classical became evident in painting in a couple of ways that historians once tried to detach from each other in order to simplify our human predilection for assigning things to categories. Neo-classical artists such as Jacques Louis David explored classical themes in their work as an illustration of the logic of the Enlightenment. David in particular was highly influential as a court painter toward the end of the French Ancien RĂ©gime. He handily made the transition to revolutionary, and finally back to monarchist as Napoleon's artist of choice.

Like the paintings of Caravaggio, David's work is highly polished, although it is also less genuinely human and natural, and more monumental in its intent.
Jacques-Louis David: The Oath of the Horatii, 1784

Neo-classical painting reflected the orderly and logical nature of classical art and architecture. At the same time, however, the revolutionary spirit of the time was aligned with the republican period of Rome. There was logic in this affinity, but the transition from monarchy to republic and back (several times in the case of France) was anything but orderly. It was a messy and very emotional period in the history of Europe. As well, looking so far into the past for models of government, behaviour and art was a quite romantic notion. Greener hills in the past, the glory that was Rome, simpler times, the nearly universal use of Latin and Greek - all of these things fascinated people who were seeking change, and escape from the realities of poverty, oppression and war. Ancient Rome was an exotic idea - distant in time, and conjuring the romance of distant places in that vast and long dead empire.

Naturally, artists were among those who espoused the romance of far-away times and places. And by the time of the French revolution, the traditional patrons of the arts, church and state, had largely abandoned the best avante garde artists. Left to their own devices, painters broke free of the restraints that had been imposed by wealthy patrons and by the church. They began to paint subjects of their own choosing, since no one was paying them to do otherwise. Here are the origins of the stereotypical image of the bohemian artist, starving in an attic in Paris. During much of the 19th century, for many artists (like Van Gogh, for example) the stereotype fit like a glove.

So, while in the work of Neo-classical painters like David, order and logic were paramount, at the same time young Romantic artists were exploring the messier side of being human.

Goya had visited England where he was deeply affected by the work of the English Romantics, Turner and Constable.

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Historically accurate anecdotes are especially welcome.