tv France 24 Mid- Day News LINKTV December 11, 2013 2:30pm-3:01pm PST
the higher you climb, the harder you fall." and what heights napoleon fell from. in those brief few years, he led french armies to italy, egypt, spain, austria, prussia, and even moscow itself, and during that meteoric time, this room, his library at the chateau of malmaison, was his still point-- a place to which he could return. it was here, for example, that he worked on his famous law code, le code napoleon, at this desk painted by david. here he returned after his abdication in 1814 in such despair that he'd attempted to commit suicide.
he came back, once more, to meditate during the fateful 100 days before waterloo, and after that last catastrophic defeat, the english allowed him to return here, just once more, before his final exile to distant st. helena. the house was empty then. his former wife, the empress josephine, whose house it was, had died. she had kept this room exactly as it had been during their happiest moments together. here napoleon had enjoyed moments of his greatest triumphs and moments of his greatest creativity. for in the story of art, too, napoleon was an extraordinary catalyst, not merely in the pictures that he commissioned or inspired here in france and in the empire, but throughout europe. for everywhere, artists were touched
by his aura. napoleon's official architects, percier and fontaine, periodically had sent an illustrated newsletter of engravings to czar alexander showing the recent public works commissioned by napoleon. for after napoleon came to power, he planned to make paris into a capital worthy of imperial rome. la madeleine, begun as a church, was continued by napoleon as a temple to glory. the architect, vignon, intended it to be a replica of an antique roman temple, incorporating statues and bas-reliefs, and the use of rich materials. the purity and severity of greek doric was replaced by corinthian splendor to commemorate ancient rome, as was befitting an emperor who took as his ancestors the emperors trajan and alexander. some of the most extravagant monuments
since the fall of the roman empire were built by napoleon as symbols of his dominion. percier and fontaine were also responsible for much of the replanning of paris. they made a triumphal east-west route across the city. another roman touch was la rue de rivoli. they prepared designs for linking the tuileries gardens with the louvre and started on the interior of the museum itself, where their inventive details can be admired today. the newly constituted louvre became napoleon's domain. he commissioned france's finest artists to glorify his deeds. the most celebrated was jacques louis david. disappointed with the aftermath of the revolution, david had sworn never to trust in men again-- only in ideas, yet he was fascinated by napoleon and quickly succumbed to his spell. when he first met the young general, he said, "oh, my friends,
"what a beautiful head he has. "it is pure. it is great. "it is as beautiful as the antique. yes. bonaparte is my hero." decades before the revolution, the encyclopedist diderot had suggested the louvre be used for the public display of the royal collections. afterwards, in 1793, it opened as the museum central des arts. then came the brief but dazzling era of the musee napoleon, filled with loot of his campaigns. here david presented his newly finished canvas, the sabine women. it tells of the reconciliation between warring tribes-- the romans and the sabines, effected by a central allegorical female figure. art historian ewa burcharth explains the remarkable device used by david to show this veiled plea for national reconciliation among the feuding factions of postrevolutionary france.
this mirror is not here by accident. during my research on the painter david, i had discovered it was actually part of the original exhibition that david organized to show his painting, the sabine women. the exhibition took place in this very museum. the function of the mirror was twofold. first, it was to draw the visitors' attention to the most important part of the painting, the women. the oval shape of the mirror echoed the circular arrangement of the women painted by david. secondly, it was to control the way the painting was looked at. david wanted that the people not only look at the painting, but actually participate almost physically in it. the visitors saw themselves, reflected in the mirror,
side by side the actors painted by david. david had problems finding female models for his painting. the rumor has it that the famous society women of the period offered to pose for the painter. at the opening of the exhibition, they arrived dressed in the sabine costumes. they kept them throughout the evening so all of paris would know they posed for david. but david didn't mean his female figures to be portraits. he wanted them to represent a political ideal. seeing themselves in the mirror reflection, just as i can see myself now, the visitors to the exhibition were invited by david
to rally to the republican cause these women represented. david's pupils, gros and ingres, also truly believed napoleon was the only one capable of leading france out of the impasse of the revolution without sacrificing its principles. they joined in the glorification of napoleonic images. their art became a vehicle for propaganda, centered on the cult of the emperor's achievement, virtues, and personality. here david painted the victorious bonaparte on a magnificent rearing horse crossing the alps. if the truth be known, he was riding a common mule. another famous image of the bonaparte cult shows napoleon walking fearlessly
into the plague house at jaffa in the holy land, unafraid of contagion because of his almost divine power to heal. his first officer, a mere mortal, holds a cloth to his face to shield himself from the plague, revolted by the stench. less ethereal, more practical, arab and french medical officers are desperately trying to provide medical aid to the plague victims. bonaparte's great deeds during his life as a soldier would continue to be recorded and represented throughout his reign. it has been said that modern propaganda was napoleon's invention. now first painter of the empire, david was given his most important commission-- a monumental work called le sacre--
the coronation. his early sketches show napoleon audaciously crowning himself. the final canvas portrays napoleon crowning josephine. david painted himself sketching the scene. everyone had to be recognizably portrayed, including the members of the church and the pope, sitting quietly and unhappily as he watches josephine kneel before the emperor, who holds the crown in his upraised arms. napoleon's sisters were not only jealous of josephine, but also of josephine's daughter from a former marriage,
whose child was rumored to be napoleon's. even napoleon's mother, who, in fact, refused to attend the ceremony, was duly painted in. all the stars of the empire were gathered. the coronation was as much the triumph of josephine as it was of napoleon. for though she would never present napoleon with an heir, she was the love of his life and wanted the world to know it. ingres' own infatuation with the emperor prompted him to paint the official portrait of napoleon in imperial robes.
after the french revolution, when the louvre was transformed from a royal palace with private collections to a public museum, it was here that young painters could complete their art education by copying old masters, learning from the examples of the past. this tradition is still going on in the louvre today... where pierre rosenberg is chief curator of painting. when ingres painted this picture in 1814, he was very much admired and also very much criticized-- criticized because critics say there were three vertebras too much in the back of this odalisque.
what is an odalisque? an odalisque is a turkish harem girl. you recognize her very well through her costume. the colors are very soft, very precise, very beautiful. the harmony of it is reverse of the very strong coloring david had used for his great pictures. i really do love this picture. why? well, it's not sensual. it's erotic. it's an intellectual picture. it's painted with his brain. in spite of this, it's erotic. it's connected. in fact, it's a connection between brain and eroticism. everything about eroticism is happening in the brain here and nowhere else. it's a very hot picture, but done by an artist whose conception about art is of a very high level.
and in a strange way, ingres was criticized in the 19th century because he sought to be a reactionary artist-- an artist of the past, an academic artist, a man bringing nothing new to art-- and the reverse has happened in our century, where ingres is so much and so rightly admired and is considered one of the fathers of modern art. but such warm and luscious fantasies were far removed from the cold and appalling reality of the distant battlefields where the dramas of napoleon's campaigns had taken place. gros was a pupil of david, but his art is quite different of david's art. here you have the battlefield of eylau the day after the battle.
of course, the hero of the battle, napoleon, is in the middle of the picture. there is not only the victor of the battle, but also the victims of the battle. that's new in french art-- to present human beings, dead soldiers, as they were after this terrible battle. this will open all the tradition in the 19th-century french art, but gros was the first in french art to do so, and he did so in a very moving, touching way. now the once glorious napoleonic armies began their retreat from moscow to waterloo. with defeat, the french began to identify themselves with those fallen foreground figures-- with the anonymous victims rather than with glories of bonaparte.
myths of heroic or noble ends turned into deceptions, and more often than not, only pointless suffering and senseless torture remained. the blackness of war between spain and france inspired goya to sketch this series on the horrors of war, showing the factual account of man's cruelty to man. goya watched the arrival of the foreign conqueror, believing at first that he was bringing reason, progress, order, and liberty, but in fact, he came to destroy and devastate, to violate and to massacre.
symbolizes the whole of spain, which rose against the napoleonic invaders. fire, destruction, violence, death-- this was spain between 1808 and 1814. the only source of illumination is the soldiers' huge lantern. we are far from the beam of the enlightenment. soon after the napoleonic wars, and inspired by the french enlightenment, the greeks began their struggle for independence against the turks. the french romantic painter delacroix was passionately committed to the greek cause. he lent his support to the greeks in greece on the ruins of mesolongion of 1826. greece is portrayed as an idealized, impassioned woman dressed in white, reminiscent of david's central figure in the sabine women. she rises heroically above the rubble,
and so, the electrifying effects of the napoleonic era, creative and destructive, left their mark on artists and everybody else. the neoclassical style would continue into the 19th century, but arid and academic, incapable of imparting true feeling. true feeling is at the core of the sensibility which followed the revolution-- the period we know as the age of romanticism. there's no real definition of romanticism. we think perhaps of wild-eyed artists and poets like keats and shelley, of melancholy gothic ruins and mysterious northern landscapes, where 19th-century man communed with nature. and all that is a part of it, but the poet baudelaire said
that the key to romanticism was not the subject matter or even truth itself, but feeling-- that you should listen to that inner voice, and that alone would give art its merit. and so the old moralities which had driven art in the past-- religion, traditional ethics, civic virtues, and so on-- were thrown out of the window. even reason itself was seen to be insufficient. all that counted was feeling and experience. this new sensibility-- heroic and sentimental, self-assertive and profoundly individualist-- would lie at the center of western art from that time until the present day. france, like the rest of europe, was now changing fast. a rapid rise in population, the spreadf industry, and the emergence of an urban proletariat helped bring about the growth of new social structures
and with them, political conflicts. the printing press now enabled millions to receive new ideas in a time of growing turmoil. it was in a newspaper that gericault read the horrifying account of the tragedy of the medusa. in the summer of 1816, the french frigate the medusa, carrying soldiers and passengers, was wrecked off the african coast. the captain, of noble birth and a political appointment, was proved incompetent. of the 115 men and women who tried to save themselves on a makeshift raft, only 15 survived. 13 days on a floating coffin. human beings reduced to a state of animal despair. a poignant human drama of corpses and victims, who suffered atrociously, but for no noble cause.
above, on the apex of the human pyramid, men and women gesturing frantically. this painting came to be regarded as a political allegory of a deeper sort. the french historian michelet wrote, "france herself-- our whole society, is on that raft." the clouds of revolution were gathering again. at the end of july 1830, paris was up in arms. it was the end of the bourbons, the ruling family of france for many centuries. everyone hoped in liberty-- in freedom.
it was a great moment of french history. delacroix was not a political radical. he was a famous artist at this moment. he understood it was the occasion to paint a great picture, and he painted a very great picture. it's, of course, a political picture. it is also a history picture. by history, i mean it's an allegory-- an allegory of freedom-- and the lady in the middle of the picture represents freedom and liberty. she has in her hand the french flag, and she is dominating the picture, where you see a lot of people-- dead soldiers, workers, an intellectual wearing a hat. [sounds of rioting] all these figures are taken in everyday life. [gun@hots] the figure of liberty herself is wearing a slipped dress, barefooted like a greek goddess.
this woman of the people is no longer simply cast in antique language, as were the sabine women. she is an ardent, vital, bare-breasted vision, brandishing a flintlock and waving her country's new flag. a woman of the people wearing the frisian cap, the red bonnet, she has now become a universal symbol of revolution, and finally, of course, the figure of the french republic itself. ironically, delacroix's liberty was bought by the liberal king louis philippe, who never dared show it. it wasn't publicly exhibited until 1861. two years afterwards, a distant ancestor of delacroix's allegorical figure arrived in paris-- the winged victory of samothrace. it was sculpted in ancient greece
in about 200 b.c. like liberty, victory is portrayed as female-- inspiring, alluring even, as she alights gently on the prow of a victorious warship, the wind streaming against her body. it's a theme which turns up in many forms in the story of western art. like liberty, victory is an idealized personification of an abstraction for which men and women have been prepared to die. in the 18th century, the age of reason used symbols like this in the belief that the humane values of classical tradition could be attained even today. the revolution hung on to such symbols, both to express their high hopes, and in the end, to justify their worst excesses. these are still potent myths in our culture today. in the story of western art, though, by the middle of the 19th century,
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( music ) narrator: the east buiing of the national glery of art in washing d.c.- built to relieve the heavily- burdened filities ofhe original gallery, to house temporary exhibitions, and to serve as a center for advanced study in the visual arts. within these walls, visitors to our nation's capital are drawn in to a very special place where monumental accomplishments of modern masters await discovery.