Art History Essay, Research Paper
1. Define the thematic and stylistic principles of Neoclassicism. How did Enlightenment
thinking affect these principles? Cite specific examples by discussing the works of at least three Neoclassical painters, and one Neoclassical architect.
Neoclassicism was born into the Age of Reason, where rationality and virtue were venerated over emotion and tradition. This style of art meant a return to the ancients, a revival of classical antiquity (p. 412). Because of this reasoning behind the art of this time, Enlightenment thinking understandably relates to Neoclassicism. Many of the philosophers during this time, including Voltaire and Hume, believed that authority ought not have any part in the ruling of human affairs. These contemporary thinkers considered reason and the common good as what should rule, and opposed what was then the established Rococo.
A masterpiece of virtue could be seen in Jean-Baptiste Greuze s painting The Village Bride. This painting, in what appears to be a genre scene, perpetuates the high caliber and honesty the Enlightenment thinkers valued. But what separates this painting from earlier genre scenes is its dramatic intention. This painting depicts lower-class family life as honorable, significant, and is ultimately more appreciated than is the frivolous pleasures supplied by the Rococo (p. 414).
Another very powerful artist of Neoclassicism was Jacques-Louis David. In his beautiful painting The Death of Socrates, he invites the viewers into a lost utopia of ancient philosophers and stoic mentalities. This piece obviously parallels the death of the philosopher Socrates with the death of Jesus. It shows Socrates about to drink his poison, but instead of being frightened, he is shown as composed and as a symbol of righteousness. The figures are severe and statuesque, reflecting rationality and patriotism. This painting provides onlookers with the Enlightenment values and attitudes. The Death of Socrates is a glimpse into the world of art as well as politics.
Benjamin West was an American painter, but traveled to Europe, and eventually stayed in London to become the Royal Academy s president after Reynolds passed away. West s The Death of General Wolfe was probably the first of its kind the depiction of a historical figure as a martyr. This painting shows the death of General Wolfe during the siege of Quebec during the French and Indian War. Although the figures are wearing modern attire, which was unheard of at this time, the painting represents heroism, patriotism, and a noble self-sacrifice. This piece can be seen as the shift of emotional allegiance from religion to nationalism (p. 417).
Not only are painters significant during the Neoclassical era, but architects as well. There was a Palladian Revival of architecture at this time, and a perfect example would be The Chiswick House by Lord Burlington and William Kent. This house was adapted from Palladio s Villa Rotunda, and reasserts the power of the ancient Romans. This house is more natural than the Baroque, its design having a numerical approach. The Chiswick House satisfies the emphasis on reason pressured by the Enlightenment (p. 421-2).
2. Lacking a specific visual style, Romanticism is thought of as a peculiar combination of a
series of attitudes, many of which are in distinct opposition to the ideals of Neoclassicism. Using works by Goya, Gericault, Ingres, Delacroix, Fuseli, Blake, and Turner, describe the various subjective characteristics that distinguish Romantic painting from Neoclassicism.
Romanticism was an art movement consisting of pessimism and individualism. Romantics worshipped nature, liberty, love, and violence; it truly is a state of mind.
Fancisco Goya s The Third of May, 1808 was an effort to rouse the Spanish about the war. This painting is realistically violent, not hiding behind a sugarcoated truth. It evokes emotion, distinguishing Romanticism from Neoclassicism, which lacked emotion, and expresses Goya s own bitterness. The execution of the man in the painting is Christ-like, while the figures gunning him down symbolize the mechanical aspects of war.
Gericaults s The Raft of Medusa is another example of violence over beauty. This scene is a continuous narrative, rising from the dead, to the dying, to the survivors, and lastly to the hopeful. It is a painting about a government boat, which foundered off, leaving the 149 colonists to be set adrift in a raft built by the heartless captain. After thirteen days, the people were located and rescued, but only fifteen survived. Gericault portrays in his painting a response to this political scandal, which included his own convictions about the inept government. This painting is hostile and instigates anger rather than being attractive and disciplined (p. 431).
In Delacroix s The Massacre at Chios, violence is shown, but is even more horrific than The Raft of Medusa. It attempts to accomplish a poetic truth, mixing sensuousness with cruelty. This painting is very pessimistic, and very Romantic. In Ingres Odalisque, sensuousness occurs again. The figure is an exotic prostitute, serving as the submissive ideal of the time. Ingres was not concerned with anatomically correct bodies, but rather with composition, and perhaps this ideal satisfied his own pleasure (p. 431-2).
3. Rebelling against conventional academic standards, Manet neglected all methods devised since Giotto s time for transforming a flat surface into pictorial space in works such as Le Dejeuner sur l Herbe and The Fifer. Discuss how his followers adopted his concepts and launched the Impressionist movement. Your answer should include several examples by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Morisot, and Cassatt. Be sure to include a discussion of Manet s revolutionary style, and draw comparisons between the Impressionists various painterly styles.
Manet launched an Impressionist empire an empire of manipulating grace, color,
scandal, rebellion, truth, realism and love into flat surfaces. Monet s Water Lilies, Renoir s Le Moulin de la Gallete, Degas s The Glass of Absinthe, Morisot s La Lecture, and Cassatt s The Bath are paintings which are influenced heavily by Manet. They are memories of patches of color, jubilated entertainment scenes, unusual cropping and human loneliness, soft, sentimental brushwork, and oblique views and forms, respectively, echoing Manet s own style and artistic philosophy. These pieces are intense, yet flat, anarchist, yet realistic. The exquisite paintings of the Impressionists offer a yearning for simplicity and eminency, and the world is all the better for it.