Three Paintings by Jacques-Louis David

Three Paintings by Jacques-Louis David


(classical music) Voiceover: In the 18th century,
artists often turned to ancient myths, to explore universal themes. Jacques-Louis David made
mythological paintings, throughout his long career. Focusing on stories with couples
to explore the psychology of love. Paris and Helen. Sappho and Phaon. Telemachus and Eucharis. Cupid and Psyche. Mars and Venus. David emphasized the actions, and expressions he envisioned
for these mortals and gods. What do their faces suggest
about the nature of love? (classical music) What do their poses and gestures say? (classical music) In the story of Telemachus and Eucharis, Telemachus is stranded
on the island of Calypso, while searching for his father, Ulysses. He falls in love with a nymph, Eucharis, but is bound by duty to
continue his journey. In traditional versions of the tale, the lovers were forced to part in
front of an audience at a hunt. David illustrated that
moment in the story, with symbols of the hunt. Instead of a public setting,
he showed the lovers in a cave, spending their last
moments together, alone. Their decision appears clearly
voluntary and, thus, more difficult. Eucharis wraps her arms around Telemachus, hoping that he’ll stay. Telemachus is torn
between desire and duty. (classical music) In David’s mythological paintings, erotic love always comes at a price. With power, duty, and destiny
changing the course of relationships. (swell of classical music) Few clues in this portrait
suggest who the sitter is, but her gaze invites us to wonder. (dramatic swell of music) A decade earlier at age 11, Suzanne
Le Pelletier became a public figure, at the start of the French Revolution. Her politician father, Louis Michel,
had voted for the King’s death, and was assassinated for it. (dramatic music) France symbolically adopted
Suzanne as daughter of the state. Jacques-Louis David served as the
Revolution’s chief image maker, and orchestrated the funeral
through the streets of Paris. (classical music) David made a drawing and a painting, of Louis Michel Le
Pelletier on his deathbed. Another artist produced this
print from David’s painting. The painting is now lost. Considered together, David’s
portraits of father and daughter, symbolize the conflicting
values of state and family, sparked by the Revolution. David made the portrait of Louis
Michel large for public display. Suzanne’s is about one third the size. It was meant for private viewing. In Louis Michel’s portrait the
murder weapon dangles above. The martyr’s words on a ballot
note call for the King’s death. The blade points down
towards his fatal wound. David portrayed another martyr, Marat, to accompany the painting of Louis Michel. Like Marat, Louis Michel is
shown in full figure profile, the way observers saw him at his funeral. He appears less as an individual, than as an object for display. By contrast, David’s portrait
of Suzanne is humanizing. She is dressed elegantly but plainly, and the painting’s intimate size
underscores her humble appearance. Soon after this portrait was made, Suzanne married a man
loyal to the Monarchy. She came to share his views. And resented her father’s
reputation as a revolutionary. After David died, Suzanne paid a huge
sum to purchase her father’s portrait. Presumably, to keep it from public view. Some scholars think she had the
symbolic elements painted over. Most believe she had
the painting destroyed. This intimate portrait of two sisters, by Jacques-Louis David
expresses, through fashion, the history and ideals
of an entire nation. Fashion has always been a
barometer of cultural change. In 18th century France, the nobility dictated the fabrics,
shapes, and colors of clothing, to denote social status. (swell of music) Extravagant hats, wigs, dresses,
and perfume adorned the body. (swell of music) During the French Revolution, the lower classes expressed
their newfound identity, through spare, practical clothing. This had a broad influence,
even on the aristocracy. As the new nation formed, people sought to express themselves, both as equals and as individuals. Various trends emerged. Women’s clothes literally
showcased the figure, fitting close to and revealing the body. Ideals of classical antiquity
also inspired clothing. (classical music) When Napoleon Bonaparte
crowned himself emperor, he and his wife Josephine
ushered in medieval, and Renaissance inspired pageantry. Napoleon’s nieces grew up in that era. They were the daughters of
the King and Queen of Spain. In David’s portrait of
them as young women, Zenaide holds a letter from their father. The sisters are dressed in
the latest Parisian fashions. Zenaide’s dress shows off her body. Charlotte’s reflects a
Renaissance influence. By then, the sisters
lived in exile in Belgium, and David deftly portrayed
them through fashion, as modern women claiming their past. (classical music)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *