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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Artists and Models

In the 1852 biography of David, Delécluze gives us some invaluable testimony about the atmosphere in the atelier in which the Sabines project was going on. The ‘wind was changing” as he puts it in 1797. Two of David’s assistants, Mulard and Gautherot, were Jacobins. During the “rest times of the models”, “they did not fail to harangue” the rest of the students concerning republican doctrines.

However, on the other side was another student, Roland, a “Creole from Martinique, honest, brave, not very witty, excessively strong, who worked like a galley slave at painting to make himself a profession and repair the losses incurred by his family when the revolution ruined the colonies.” Roland was nicknamed the Furies, and he once encountered Gautherot in a café and, at the end of their political argument, challenged him to a duel. Which did not take place. While Gautherot was brave as against the attack by Roland, he had perceived that public opinion was no longer with him, and suddenly ceased his political haranguing. (50-51)

I don’t know if Flaubert read the biography, but there are passages that could certainly have come out of L’education Sentimentale:

“Ducis had a raucous, false and very low voice. During his campaigns in the Vendee, he had learned various republican songs, and particularly the one that begins: Le fanatisme insense, l’ennemi jure de notre liberte, est expire. Thus he sang it in such a way that when he pronounced the fa …, he would stop on the note, working for a minute or two on his painting, then, when nobody was expecting it, take up the song again: natisme insense. Then, after having cut it short with other intervals of more or less duration: l’ennemi jure… de notre liberte… he finished on a very grave and low note: est ex-pi-re!!!” (51)

My leap from Winckelmann to David, from Germany to France, or from Greece to Europe – all of these are leaps, moves, within the hide and seek of an overall game, the game of the white mythology. Delécluze, in his report of David’s early training – winning a prize, he was able to travel to Rome in 1775 – mentions Winckelmann, of course.

“No educated man nowadays doesn’t know of the immense step made by Heyne and Winckelmann in philology and archaeology applied to the general knowledge of antiquity. The effect of the lights that these two men disseminated on this matter was felt first in Germany, and then more particularly in Italy, where Winckelmann went to live to observe the antiquites, to study, and to write his History of Art… The number of statues retrieved from digs each day augmented the pool of riches for the scholars to study in their research on antiquity…” (127)

It was in this context that David lived in Rome in 1775-1779 and decided that the royal road was open for the regeneration of art. That road lead through ancient Greece.

But David’s path went through the tumults of a revolution, and the choice of contemporary subjects – the Death of Marat, the Swearing of the Oath on the Jeu de Paumes.

To be continued…

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