Throughout history, man has combined ingenuity, determination, and boldness to transform the world in countless numbers of ways, including art. For thousands of years, cultures around the world have conjured up their own imaginations, along with mental pictures, and depicted them on various types of objects to form art as we know it. Due to the diversity of the cultures, variation in the art is to be expected, but that doesn't mean one art form is superior to the other. Even though art will always be art, the way we portray it has changed over time resulting with numerous styles of art; gothic, romanticism, baroque, and neoclassicism to name a few of an ever-growing list. This paper will explore the terms romanticism and neoclassicism followed with a thorough analysis of artworks from each period. The artworks that we will compare and contrast will be “Death of Sardanapalus” from the Romantic era, and ‘Oath of the Horatii” from the neoclassic era.
Neoclassicism was a western art movement that was predominantly popular in the late 18th and early 19th century. Neoclassicism was a renewed interest in classical antiquity based on the enthrallment of Roman and Greek cultures following the discovery of art from the ancient cities, Herculaneum and Pompeii. If one was to view the manner of how the ancient art was done, reason and logic would be the main ideas that would be first to come in mind. This influenced many artists from the 18th century to reintroduce a fresh, but not new, art style into their society and they did this in three ways. First, any given artwork seemed to all follow a “code” in which there was a calm mood and a sense of civility present in the artwork, even if it portrayed a death scene. Artist s would also often, but not always, dress the people depicted in the artworks in clothing similar to the ancient Greek and Roman time periods. Second, artists would use line and color to capture the viewer's attention then direct it to the focal point. Finally, artists would spend a substantial amount of time attempting to make the art seem real by detailing every aspect of the artwork; shadows, the curves of clothing, and skin tone for example.
One of the prominent artists of the Neoclassicism art style was French artist, Jacques-Louis David, who was known for his undying support of the French Revolution. He was born on August 30th 1798 in Paris and lived a long life till age seventy-seven, dying in Belgium on December 29th 1825. At an early age, his wealthy father was killed in a duel,and soon after his mother sent him off to his uncles who happened to be very successful architects. They enrolled him into Collège des Quatre-Nations(College of the Four Nations) but he was never a good student, so he decided to be a painter. He left home to go learn from French artist and distant relative, Francois Boucher, who had a strong taste for the Rococo style. However, since the Rococo art style was approaching its twilight, Boucher referred David, in 1765, to Joseph-Marie Vien, an artist with a more classical Rococo taste. David learned from Vien for several years and in 1774 he won the Prix De Rome, an art scholarship to the French Academy in Rome. He spent the next six years in Rome and during this time he was able to observe art from Ancient Rome and in 1779 he managed to see the ruins from Pompeii. It was then that David abandoned his way of painting from his earlier work and adopted true classical art form due to his fascination with the ancient art. In 1784, the change in direction could be observed when he painted Oath of the Horatii.
In Oath of the Horatii, a group that consists of four men, three women and two children can be observed in a hallway. In the middle, there is an elderly man, dressed in a red cloak, and he has three swords raised in his hand. Facing the old man are three warriors who stand in unison as they reach out for the swords. Behind the elderly man, there are two young women who are slumped over, almost lifeless, while the third is comforting two children. This image that David portrays to the audience comes from an ancient Roman tale. According to the tale, there was an ongoing war between two cities and at one time, Mettius, leader of Alba Longa, offered Tullus Hostillus, leader of Rome, an ultimatum. In order to avoid another conflict between the armies, a set of three brothers from each side would be chosen to engage in combat and whichever family won would decide the victor between the cities. The city of Alba Longa chose the Curatii brothers, and the city of Rome chose the Horatii brothers. A sister of the Horatii was engaged to one of the Curatii brothers, while a sister of the Curatii was married to one of the Horatii brothers. In the end, two of the Horatii brother were quickly killed but managed to injure each of the Curatii brothers. When facing defeat, the last of the Horatii pretended to flee and the Curatii brothers gave chase, but due to different injuries, they ran in different speeds. One by one, the Horatti brother killed all the Curatii brothers as they ran into his traps. In the painting, David captures the defining moment when the sons pledge an oath to fight to the death for their family and for Rome. The daughter and daughter-in-law sit motionless behind the father as they deal with the fact that someone they love, either their brother or lover, will die soon. Even though the artwork portrays pain and sorrow, it also promotes values such as valor, sacrifice, morality, duty and selfless service.
Oath of the Horatii was a royal commission done in 1784 on behalf of King Louis XVI to mainly emphasize his values; loyalty to the King and France. However, the interesting fact is that five years later, David would paint propaganda artworks for the Revolution and would also support Robespierre, one of the people responsible for the execution of the King. Oath of the Horatii was also painted in a manner that reaffirms gender roles. The men can be seen as valiant martyrs ready to sacrifice their lives to protect their family and the citizens of their state. In contrast, the women as can viewed as weak and emotionally tied to family commitment. In the artwork, two of the brothers are shown facing inward, while the third has his back to the viewer suggesting that this could be the brother that survived since he's different. He is wearing the helmet with the largest plumage, he is the more masculine of the brothers, the lone brother holding a spear, and is also the one that reaches for the straight edge sword. The artwork is also divided into three blocs; the warriors, the father, the women and children. David does this by placing each faction under arches in the background. This helps the artist portray three different messages or moods. On the left, the brothers stand in unison in a firm upright manner, ready to fight. The father stands upright too, though not as firm, and is leaning backwards. However he does face the brothers and lifts the swords toward them, suggesting that although he might lose his sons, he understands what needs to be done, and encourages it. In his hands are the swords which are the focal points due to contrast of their silver color against the black background. On the right, the women are pale and unmoving suggesting that due to their emotional ties to family, some part of them will die after the battle.
The predecessor of Neoclassicism was Romanticism, beginning in the 1750s, reaching its apex around the 1840s, then disappearing around 1850. It derives from the term “romance” which, in the field of literature, means stories of adventure. Romantics refused to adhere to logic and reason; instead they felt they should pour their emotions and thoughts into their artworks. They would rebel against rules and society norms in order to seek individual personality which in turn made it difficult for audiences to comprehend their work. However, in pursuit to be unique, they continued to paint what they felt and were proud of it. When observing an artwork from this period, one often sees little to no structural lines, and the failure to emphasize on lines of perception.
In the earlier part of the 19th century, two French artists appeared as the powerhouses of painting. One was a student of David's by the name of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres who continued David's way of painting and later became a leader of the Neoclassicism art style. The other was Eugene Delacroix who is considered to the greatest Romantic artist to have lived. He was born on April 26 1798 in Charenton-Saint-Maurice, the southeastern suburbs of Paris, and died on August 13th 1863. Some historians speculate that his father was infertile at the time of his birth and that his true father was a family friend and statesman, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord. This was due to the close physical resemblance of the two and the unexplainable patronage from within the French Government despite Delacroix's nonconformist artwork. Nevertheless, he was brought up in loving family and received excellent education that money could buy. Delacroix was fascinated with classical studies till 1825, at the age seventeen, when he became the student of Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guerin. In addition to Guerin, Theodore Gericault, Richard Parkes Bonignton, and Frederick Chopin also influenced Delacroix to pursue the Romantic art style as compared to the classical style. In the period between 1827 and 1832, Delacroix, who was now in his early twenties, cranked out various masterpieces, “Death of Sardanapalus” being one of them.
In Death of Sardanapalus, a collage of nude women, horses, slaves, treasures, and muscular servants, all entangled in chaos, can be observed. When painting this artwork, Delacroix drew his inspiration from Lord Byron's 1821 narrative poem, Sardanapalus, but did it in a more emotional and turbulent manner than the way in the poem. Although not much is known about Sardanapalus due to misplacement of history records, historians believe he was the last of thirty Kings of Assyria. According to legend, the King stayed within his palace walls, living a life full of luxury, bedding several concubines and hosting lavish parties, all while his armies were at war with the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians. When he received news about the enemy's breach of his city walls, Sardanapalus built a huge pyre for himself then ordered for it to be set alight along with his treasures, servants, and concubines.
The Death of Sardanapalus was completed by Delacroix in 1827, but after