Gericault vs David

Topics: French Revolution, Eugène Delacroix, History painting Pages: 3 (1289 words) Published: March 21, 2010
With the onset of the French Revolution came the idea of making artwork for the public. Work was now able to be created as engaging political and social commentaries. For the first time, artwork created an influence rather than simply illustrating a preexisting one. Both Jean Louis David’s work Oath of the Horatii and Theodore Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa exemplify this. David’s Oath of the Horatii, painted in 1794, was one of the first paintings that broke from the idea of illustration and provided ideals that helped influence the public. The scene is of three brothers swearing an oath to their father before they are sent to battle, a story from a Roman play. The painting added to the public’s tension that came with the beginning of the French Revolution by instilling ideas of sacrifice for the protection of the state. The painting also created ideals and gave more power to artists, who suddenly found themselves holding a more influential social position. The original scene was supposed to depict the part of the play in which the surviving brother comes home to find his sister mourning the death of her husband, whom he had fought in opposition to. David, however, in a type of declaration of independence, decided not to paint this scene but rather to create his own event that distilled the thematic of the play. This was a monumental move, for it suggested that painting could convey ideas without depending on text. Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa was also a history painting that intended to spark the interest of the public. The image, recalled from a contemporary scandal, depicts survivors of a post-Napoleonic shipwreck who spot a vessel in the distance. The painting is one of confrontation against the newly restored French Monarchy, who had fired all military personnel affiliated with Napoleon and gave jobs (such as the ship’s captain) to men with little or no experience. When the ship was grounded off the coast of West Africa, there were not enough...
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