Individual Artists

Dix de Der by Didier Comès

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By Didier Comès

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Because the subtleties of the past were suspect, many artists turned deliberately to politically engaged symbols and narratives easy to recognize and interpret. The advantages of this approach are obvious, since art in the service of the state is almost always handsomely recompensed. But what about engaged art in a protean, volatile political climate like that of the revolutionary and Napoleonic period? Here was the danger. The intense labor required for politicized art, especially monumental sculpture and architecture but also such paintings as Jacques-Louis David's Oath of the Tennis Court (figure 1), simply could not keep pace with rapid political change.

D. Rome, Musei Capitolini (photo: Courtesy of the Capitoline Museums, Rome) 115 50 Antonio Canova, Pauline Borghese as Venus Victrix, marble, 1804-8. Rome, Villa Borghese (photo: Alinari/Art Resource) 116 51 Antonio Canova, Paris, marble, 1807-12. Saint Petersburg, Hermitage (photo: Courtesy, of the Hermitage State Museums) 118 52 Antonio Canova, The Three Graces, 1810-14. Saint Petersburg, Hermitage (photo: Courtesy of the Hermitage State Museums) 119 53 Antonio Canova, Dancer, marble, 1806-12.

He hated wars and social revolution because they destroyed both existing art and the normal societal relationships that promote the training of young artists and the production of works of art. In this he was conservative. The current connotations of such political labels as liberal, moderate, conservative, progressive, reactionary, and so forth, often have only a tangential relation to the meanings of those words during the revolutionary and Napoleonic period. I have tried to understand these terms in their historical context.

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