Thursday, December 31, 2009

PAINTING HISTORY (PART 2)

The glorification of the past by the Dutch artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912). Alma-Tadema visited the ruins of Rome and Pompeii and revived them in his paintings. But it’s not only a reanimation, Alma-Tadema’s paintings are much sweeter than Roman reality could have been.

Unconscious Rivals (1893)

The Colosseum (1896) 
 
Hussite Sermon (1836) by the German romantic painter Carl Friedrich Lessing (1808-80).

Lessing depicts here the revolutionary Hussites as an idealized example. They are demanding a reform of the Catholic Church and of the feudal society. Disguised as a history painting it’s an explicit critic of German society during the restoration after Napoleonic wars, a prelude to the Revolution of 1948

El ultimo suspiro del moro (1892)

The Spanish painter Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz (1848-1921) is relating here a nice anecdote about the fall of Granada in 1492. When the Sultan Boabdil, the last Moorish ruler in Spain, had to leave his beloved Granada he turned around and made a big sigh. As legend tells his mother approached him and said: "don't weep like a woman for what you could not defend as a man".

Salman Rushdie took this legend as an inspiration for his famous novel “The Moor's Last Sigh”. 
 
 
Two more paintings by the great Polish artist Józef Brandt (1841-1915). He was glorifying the great past of Polish history in the 17th century.

Return of the Cossacks (1894)

Battle over the Turkish Banner 
 
 
The Boyhood of Raleigh (1870) by John Everett Millais (1829–1896).

Millais depicts here Sir Walter Raleigh, the best known English explorer of the Elizabethan age. But he didn’t show him on board fighting the Spanish or pointing to distant horizons. Millais shows him as a boy listening fascinated the stories of an old sailor, maybe a pirate. The subjects of the painting are not the heroic deeds, but the way dreams were born.

Millais' eldest son Everett sat for the figure of Raleigh on the left, and his second son George for the other boy. 
 
 
At the end of the 19th century Nordic mythology became more and more fashionable. For one part this was because the European nations were looking for their own cultural roots. But a much bigger influence had the operas of Richard Wagner. Nordic heroes, gods and Valkyries seemed more interesting than the Greek Olympians.

The Valkyrie's Vigil (1906) by the British painter Arthur Hughes (1831–1915).

Frigg Spinning (1909) by the British painter John Charles Dollman (1851-1934).

Despite both artists pretended to paint Nordic goddesses they continue depicting girls in the typical classical costumes. A winged helmet alone doesn’t make a Valkyrie. Moreover you should know that in their origin Valkyries were a kind of bloodthirsty demons. These painters wanted to be wild, but not too much. 
 
 
Caius Marius Meditating in the Ruins of Carthage (1807).

The American painter John Vanderlyn (1775-1852) shows here the Roman general and politician Caius Marius in his exile in Northern Africa. Upon the ruins of Carthage he is thinking about the capriciousness of life, about his own future and his destiny. It is not known if Marius visited the ruins of Carthage, they serve here as a typical symbol of vanity. History passes by and in the end probably there are only ruins to tell of grater times.
 
 
Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin (1842-1904) was the most famous Russian battle and military painter. As one of the great representatives of Realism he don’t waste his time in showing glorious cavalry charges, normally he painted the dirty face of the war.

Firing squad in the Kremlin (1897-98)

The Night Bivouac of the Napoleon Army during the retreat from Russia in 1812 (1896-97).
 
 
The Diversion of an Assyrian King (1878) by the American painter Frederick Arthur Bridgman (1847-1928).

Bridgman was specialized on oriental and exotic subjects. With good success he mixed both in paintings about old Egypt. Here he went even further showing the Assyrian King killing lions in the arena, although it is to doubt that arenas like this existed in the Assyrian empire. It’s a nice and well done painting, but it’s pure fantasy.
 
 
The Battle of Hohenfriedberg, Attack of the Prussian Infantry by the German painter Carl Röchling (1855-1920).

Röchling was probably the most famous military painter of his time in Germany. He focused on subjects from the Prussian military history as it was wise in a Germany dominated by Prussians. Although he was more a good illustrator than a great painter, this painting has something special because it shows the Prussians as a military machine. 
 
 
The Battle of Hastings (c. 1820) by the British painter Frank W. Wilkin (1791-1842)

Although it’s not a really great painting, it’s interesting because it illustrates the first steps and problems of 19th century history painting. Wilkin painted it for the Battle Abbey near Hastings, a kind of national memorial. At his time there was enough historical literature about the battle of Hastings in 1066 and the famous Bayeux Tapestry was also well known. Nevertheless Wilkins painted the two kings like Greeks or Romans like he had probably learned to paint soldiers. From a modern point of view the crowns are also a little strange like the theatrically presentation of the arrow, which killed Harold. 
 
 
Prince Charles Carlos de Viana (1881) by the Spanish painter José Moreno Carbonero (1858-1942).

Even though Carlos de Viana was the eldest son of King Juan II of Aragon and heir to the throne, he was disowned by his father him in favor of his half-brother Fernando “The Catholic.” After a civil war Carlos was forced to retire in a monastery. Carbonero paints him there. Aa isolated resigned young man who has only his books and a dog as companion.
It’s an impressive work by this great Spanish artist. 
 
 
In the 19th century in France Joan of Arc converted into a national hero fighting for the liberty of her country, which means she became the ancestor, the great grandmother of all patriots. In other countries she became popular too, even in England the homeland of her former enemies. But there her militant and patriotic aspects never reached great importance. There artists were much more interested in the devoted young woman. To the romantics united in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood she seemed to have been a kind of female Percival on his quest for the Holy Grail.

Joan of Arc (1863) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

Joan of Arc (1865) by John Everett Millais (1829–1896)

Joan of Arc (early 20th century) by Annie Louisa Swynnerton (1844-1933)

It’s evident that in the focusing on the religious aspect these English romantics are abandoning the traditional history painting approaching instead the style of altarpieces. 
 
 
Rome was the ideal pattern for Empires and because of that there was mostly a close relation in France between French - i.e. Napoleonic history - and ancient Rome. So the French needed much more time to discover their sympathies for their barbarian ancestors than their German neighbors.

That changed with the French defeat 1871 and the end of the Empire of Napoleon III. Also in France now appeared paintings with fierce barbarian warriors as symbols of natural, national power.

Some of the best of this kind of paintings were from the French painter Joseph-Noël Sylvestre (1847-1926). It’s clear that he is totally with the barbarians, who are cutting the Romans to pieces.

The Gaul Ducar decapitates the roman general Flaminius in the battle of Lake Trasimeno (1882)

The sack of Rome by the barbarians 410 (1890) 
 

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