The Louvre: historical figures

Most of the historical figures depicted in the Louvre gallery were from the 18th-19th century France,  one of the most tumultuous and transformative periods in European history. During this era, France abolished monarchy during the French Revolution, witnessed the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and subsequent establishment of the French Empire. Led by Jacque-Louis David, the French salon also dedicated their effort to immortalize the pivotal events and prominent individuals that were to imprint their names to the future generations.

It was an immense pleasure to encounter the artworks I used to see in history textbooks in the halls of the gallery, for those proud, grand-scale exhibits revealed the artists as the contemporary witnesses and acquaintances to the great events and individuals that are still remembered today. Many of the historical paintings from the Louvre have become unforgettable images of modern ideals such as democracy, revolution, rationalism, and heroism.

“Portrait of the Marquise de Pompadour (1755)” by Maurice Quentin de La Tour. As Louis XV’s mistress, she wielded more influence than any other ministers not only with her beauty, but also her intelligence. She may be one of the few enlightened figures in the final days of the Bourbon dynasty.

“Portrait of Denis Diderot (1769)” by Jean-Honore Fragonard. Diderot was a major figure from the Enlightenment, best known as the editor of the Encyclopedia. An interpretation suggests that the artist imitated the techniques of Rambrandt in order to create this highly individual portrait of the 18th-century Philosopher. I used to see this painting in my first year History class.

“The Coronation of Emperor Napoleon I and the Crowning of Empress Josephine (1806-1807) ” by Jacque-Louis David. It took several years for the artist to depict this ostentatious ceremony in which he himself had attended. It was one of the largest paintings in the Louvre, so it was almost impossible to capture the entire artwork in my tiny smartphone camera… 😦

“Bonaparte on the Bridge of Arcole (1796)” by Baron Antoine-Jean Gros. Trained as a history painter, the artist was introduced to Bonaparte while the general was in his Italian campaign. Gros immortalized the successful commander on the battle on the bridge at Arcole, whenre Napoleon defeated Austrian forces on November 17th of the year. The portrait has become a transcending image of heroism.

“Madam Recamier (1800)” by Jacques-Louis David. The model, Juliette Recamier, was known as one of the most prominent women of the French Empire for her stunning beauty. For a long time I was mistaken her as Josephine Napoleon, for her regal pose, coquettish charisma and antique-style dress and furniture. Madam Recamier here resembles a Greek goddess.

“Liberty Guiding the People (1830)” by Eugene Delacroix. It was painted in commemoration of the July Revolution when the Paris citizens rose against the feudalistic policies by King Charles X who was later succeeded by a prospectively enlightened and democratic monarch, Louis-Philippe. The student-uniformed young boy on the right to the Liberty is said to have sprang from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables.

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