Jacques-Louis David: Gouvernement Anglois (The English Government)
As one can expect from the very nature of political and social revolutions, there were some very unhappy people during the French revolution. The question here is why the French citizens of this time so upset were and was their discontent so great that a revolution could be justified? Furthermore, who and what will be the ultimate vehicle to bring the necessary political, social and economic dreams to realization?
The French Revolution in began in 1789 and ended in 1799, this was a time in which democrats and republicans overthrew the absolute monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church was forced to make drastic changes (Doyle, 1999). The French Revolution ended an archaic social and political system established in France characterised by a feudal system under the control of a powerful absolute monarchy and the unquestioned power of the Catholic Church (Slevin, 2003).
Those unhappy citizens who overthrew the absolute monarchy and the church belonged to a group known the bourgeoisie. This group was defined under the "Popular Movement" was constituted by angry peasants and wage-earners that had come under the influence of the rational ideas of the Enlightenment (Slevin, 2003). The bourgeoisie of this time was justifiably angered by many societal afflictions such as:
Unequal taxation between classes (some in the form of labor, known at that time as seigneurial taxes) (Doyle, 1999).
The irrational concepts of absolutism and powers of the church as a result of Enlightenment thought
The power of a privileged clergy and nobility
As you can see there were many reasons for the discontent of the French bourgeois at this time, not only were they unfairly taxed, but they had very little voice in the government that was allowing many of its citizens to starve to death; something had to be done.
The Birth of a Revolution:
The theme of the French Revolution was Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and came as a result of Enlightenment rationale. The bourgeoisie of the time believed in the freedom of the individual and wanted to see the actualization of real democracy and laissez-faire economy in France (Slevin, 2003). One man, by the name of Jacques-Louis David was a strong believer in these liberal and humanistic values. David was a not only an artist, but a social reform visionary with the courage to stand up for what he believed in and the ability to bring about a change for all of those suffering under the iniquities of the pre-Revolutionary French Government.
An Enlightened Soul:
Jacques-Louis David was born in Paris in 1748 and he soon became a leader in the neoclassical movement; later his subjects change and became more modern and political as he passionately embraced the Enlightenment and the French Revolution (Johnson< 1993). Beginning in 1789 he actively participated in political life and became a member of the Committee of Public Safety (Johnson, 1993). Later, his dedication to Enlightenment idealism and consequent political allegiance became much more evident when he became a leader in the Popular Movement and voted for the death of Louis XVI in 1793 (Johnson, 1993). David was active in the French Revolution and is sometimes called the chief propagandist for the Revolution (Johnson, 1993). The influence that David has on the viewers of his artwork was one way in which he gained this title. One his strongest pieces of propaganda during the Revolution was known as Gouvernement Anglois or The English Government.
David began painting Gouvernement Anglois in 1793 which depicted the English Government as a demonic figure vomiting on its people. Although the image is quite explicit, David managed to maintain its technical and highly allegorical integrity. The image is arranged with a frightening demonic figure on the left,...
Cited: Doyle, William. Origins of the French Revolution, 3rd ed. (1999).
Johnson, D., Jacques-Louis David: Art in Metamorphosis (1993).
Nast, Thomas. "King Andy". Harper 's Weekly, 3 Nov. 1866. p.696
Slevin, Carl "French Revolution" The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics. Ed. Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan. Oxford University Press, 2003. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Syracuse Univeristy. 28 March 2005
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