The 18th century was a time of revolution, philosophy, evolution, and reevaluation. Some of the most lasting and monumental events happened during this period. The Age of Enlightenment was brought forth as well as the French and American revolutions. Science and philosophy both increased in notability and prominence during this period. I will be showing three pieces that were selected based on not only their aesthetic qualities, but the way they embrace the revolutionary theme of the Classical Era.
George Washington – Charles Willson Peale
George Washington is a painting that was commissioned by the U.S. Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania. The council selected Charles Willson Peale as the artist. Peale, in order to paint the background, traveled to both Trenton and Princeton battlegrounds in 1779. By all accounts this painting was completed somewhere between June and August of 1780. This particular portrait depicts George Washington posed after the Battle of Trenton which was a turning point during the Revolutionary War. This painting exemplifies the revolutionary theme of the Classical era very strongly by portraying the leader of the American Revolution as the victor of one of the major turning point battles in the Revolutionary War. Optimism is manifested through the look on George Washington’s face with his glowing radiance. This shows confidence in George Washington and in the future of a new nation.
Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine – Jacques Louis David
David was commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his consecration that took place on December 2, 1804. The story being portrayed by Jacques Louis David is somewhat of an interesting one. Originally David was to portray the event with Napoleon crowning himself. The Emperor crowned his own head in order to avoid showing obedience to the Pontiff. David eventually found that it would not be a good decision to paint what was a relatively disrespectful action and decided to portray Napoleon crowning Josephine with the pope blessing her. Jacques Louis David was a revolutionist. Napoleon took power after the execution of King Louis XVI which was in result of the French Revolution. David represented a stronger government in his painting. The people were drawn in a way to inspire unity and confidence in the newly founded leaders.
Fidelio – Beethoven
Fidelio was Beethoven’s only opera. Fidelio is a celebration of equality, solidarity, and liberties which are all ideas contained in the Age of Enlightenment and revolutionary theory. The opera Fidelio follows a man who was locked in a jail cell by the criminal governor. There are some very good comparisons between this opera and the French Revolution. The criminal governor was in absolute power over the people, much like King Louis XVI. Ultimately the people triumph over the corrupt governor much like they did in the French Revolution. Fidelio is a great representation of political idealism, human rights, and triumph over tyranny.
Langford, Jeffrey Alan. Evenings at the opera: an exploration of the basic repertoire. Milwaukee, WI: Amadeus Press, 2011. Print.
Scott, Bruce. “Strife and Salvation: Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’ : NPR.” NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. <http://www.npr.org/2011/01/07/132712125/strife-and-salvation-beethovens-fidelio>.
Willette, Dr. Jeanne S. M.. “The American Revolution « Art History Unstuffed.” Art History Unstuffed. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2013.