The Glorification and Horrors of War Through the Arts

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Janet King
Professor Miller
ART 1030
17 August 2010
The Glorification and Horrors of War through the Arts
Artistes have always painted scenes of war from the Ancient worlds of Egypt and Greece. The relief inside the Abu Simbel Temple showing Ramses in the Battle of Kadesh and of his victory over the Hittites is an excellent example. The Athena Frieze depicting the battle of Greeks against the Persians, which are some of the earliest example of a specific historical event being, sculptured (Greek Art). To the photographs that are coming from the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the flagged draped coffins of the dead in the cargo hull on their way home.

In the periods of art, before Goya’s the Third of May tended to glorify war and make it seem romantic and heroic without the effects of the bloodshed and horrors that war brings. Benjamin West’s The Death of General Wolfe does show the effect of war, however, he has made a martyr of General Wolfe surrounded by his officers making this painting seems to be Romanizing the death (Class Lecture-The Neoclassical 2 of 3). Benjamin West was an American Neoclassical painter who turned art historical order upside down by not depicting a classical theme and used clothing of the time (Gehmacaher).

The Neoclassical period of art was a reaction to the Baroque and Rococo style of art where a renewed interest for classical antiquity of the ancient Greek and Roman seeking the geometric harmony of the time (Kleiner 330). The Neoclassical period of art was during the Enlightenment period where critical thinking of the world and humankind spurred the great political, social and economic changes resulted in Revolutions in France and America (Kleiner 319). Writers such as Rousseau, Voltaire, and Jefferson help the change the critical thinking in political, social and economic toward humankind and what was going on in the world helped inspired the French and American Revolutions (Class Lecture-The Neoclassical 1 of 3). This influenced the people to put a new light on all thinking and question the traditional ideas and ways of doing things whether it was in painting, sculpture, writing, science, politics, and nature (Smart History). The Death of General Wolfe is the final stages of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, which takes place in Quebec, Canada, when the French and British fought during the Seven Year’s War for control of Canada or as it was called then New France (Gehmacher). General Wolfe, a British officer, won the battle but lost his life in this campaign on September 13, 1759, the French surrendered Quebec five days later and by 1760 surrendered in Montreal after a failed attempt to regain control of the capital (BBC). West has distorted the events surrounding General Wolfe death to heighten the drama in this painting (Gehmacher). West does not depict General Wolfe in armor like that of ancient soldiers but he has paid close attention to the details of the uniforms and the clothes of the Indians (Stacey). To me, West has made a martyr of General Wolfe by having him surrounded by his officers and Indians with the front lines not far off. This also glorifies and romanizes war, everyone around the dying General seem unaffected by the battle that is raging nearby. Jacques-Louis David preferred the ancient and Renaissance works, and agreed with the Enlightenment philosophy that the subject matter should have a moral balance reflect the artwork of ancient times and depicting noble events in history would civil virtues and patriotism (Kleiner 332) inspire. David’s Oath of the Horatii is an excellent example of the Enlightenment philosophy and of Neoclassical style. David became the painter of French Revolution and was on the board that voted to behead the King; he also became the official painter for Napoleon (Zucker). Oath of the Horatii is keeping with the neoclassical style, by the David has used colors and by classicizing contemporary subject matter (Gersh-Nesic). David has...
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