Friday, November 22, 2013

Neoclassicism (pt. 6)

Napoleon is in office.  After his successful coup d'état overthrowing the French Directory in 1799, he hired a painter to commemorate his victory.  Since, Jacques-Louis David was a friend and admirer of Napoleon, he was commissioned to paint Napoleon's crossing of the Alps.
Let me take this moment to say that images are very powerful—that is why some images are kept hidden from us.  Images can engrain themselves in our head, etching deep into our memory and impressing upon our thoughts and emotions.  I did a quick Google search, and it appears that, statistically speaking, it has been estimated that about 65 percent of people are visual learners; but even so, regardless of percentages and Google search results, all humans react to things they see.  It is largely how we glean truth from any phenomena: by what we see.  And inasmuch as art (the kind which we are looking at) comprises itself most predominantly of images, art as propaganda can dramatically influence people; because an artist is an image creator.  Art can make people question their government.  An image can make a person cringe at the thought of warfare.  Propaganda makes heroes and villains.  Through images, populations can be swayed to becoming followers or enemies of rulers, governments, and belief systems.  It's very powerful stuff.
Here we see Napoleon Crossing the Alps.  The future emperor of France is sitting on a wild horse that is rearing up, but Napoleon appears calm, resolute, and determined.  He is most clearly in charge, and if he can tame a wild beast with such ease, what might he be able to do for the French government?  He points upward and onward, showing his courage and perseverance, and his black, penetrating eyes seem to contain all the authority and strength of a mighty warrior.  His cape flows in the wind elegantly, making him appear spectacular and huge.  He is the picture of stunning, dominating, and awe-inspiring grace.  What's more, light from above shines down on Napoleon, demonstrating God's favor on him.  The artist glorifies this man and this scene as something altogether epic and momentous.  Actually, Napoleon's troops took the Alps and led their leader, pictured here, through the region only after they had secured it; and I think he rode on a donkey.  You can see, then, how exaggerated this painting is and how it uses propaganda to support Napoleon.  But this is still a majestic painting, to say the least, and this was how the style of art changed after the Revolution.  Majesty, rather than frivolity, characterized the subjects of Post-Revolutionary paintings, and the period became one of Neoclassicism.

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