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Art Movement Louis David

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Art Movement

The art of Jacques Louis David embodies the style known as Neoclassicism, which flourished in France during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. David championed a style of rigorous contours, sculpted forms, and polished surfaces; history paintings, such as his Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons (Musée du Louvre, Paris) of 1789, were intended as moral exemplars. He painted in the service of royalty, radical revolutionaries, and an emperor; although his political allegiances shifted, he remained faithful to the tenets of Neoclassicism, which he transmitted to a generation of students, including Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson, François Gérard, Baron Antoine Jean Gros, and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.
In the late 1790s, a group of David's students, known as the Primitifs (Primitives) or Barbus (Bearded Ones), rejected the values of Davidian classicism in favor of an art whose linear purity and simplicity recalled archaic Greek vase painting as well as early Renaissance art.
These challenges to the primacy of David's Neoclassical style set the stage for a radical redefinition of history painting around 1800 in France. Before the Revolution, David's major history paintings, though often invoked in relation to contemporary events, drew upon subjects from ancient history (2009.423) and distant civilizations (Death of Socrates, 31.45); his approach was in keeping with that of the French Academy, which placed history painting at the top of its hierarchy of subjects while scenes from contemporary life were relegated to the bottom order. However, after 1789, the Revolution and its heroes came to the forefront in the art of David and his contemporaries. Capitalizing on this trend, Napoleon Bonaparte, in his dramatic rise to power, marshaled art in service of his regime and commissioned artists to document contemporary history as it unfolded. He appointed David "First Painter to the Emperor" in 1804 and enlisted many of his pupils to chronicle his triumphs.
Around 1800, while David and many of his pupils were fueling Napoleon's propaganda machine, a number of artists in his studio turned to France's medieval past for inspiration. This group of artists from southern France, which included Pierre Révoil, Fleury Richard, and François-Marius Granet, painted small-scale works rendered with a precise, meticulous finish in what became known as the Troubadour style. Their retrospective subjects coincided with the establishment of Alexandre Lenoir's Musée des Antiquités et Monuments Français, which opened to the public in 1796 and housed the sculpture from French churches that had been saved from destruction during the Revolution. The monastic interiors that became a specialty of the painter Granet evoke the Catholic past enshrined in Lenoir's museum (2003.42.36). The historicism of the Troubadour style would inform the emerging Romantic aesthetic in the early nineteenth century.

Kathryn Calley Galitz
Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art…...

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