In what ways and to what extent is
an understanding of historical context
important in approaching the works of
(a)Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and
In this essay I will attempt to illustrate how an ahistorical approach to the works of David and Rousseau is possible. I will discuss how a historical approach adds to this and as such assess its importance in fully appreciating their work.
We can approach David's paintings with a purely formal analysis, based on the techniques he uses to create them. He painted in the Neo-classical style, therefore adopting the style, subjects and traditional techniques of Ancient Roman painters. "The Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of his Sons" (Illustration Book, Colour Plate 41) for example, depicts an event from Roman history. In this painting he uses the Classical technique of objects and using perspective lines to create the illusion of depth.
He also uses lighting and vanishing point to highlight the three female figures. Furthermore the painting adheres to the Classical traditions of being balanced, in so much as: the figures and objects are carefully positioned in a balanced way; certain shape formations reoccur throughout; the warm tonal colours of the three female figures clothing are echoed in other areas.
We can also compare David's style with other painting styles, such as Romanticism. Romanticism was a conflicting style adopted in the same period, by painters such as Casper David Friedrich. Whilst the Neo-classical style strictly adhered to the traditional conventions of painting, Romantics like Friedrich aimed to defy them. Furthermore, through the depiction of vast and wondrous
landscapes, such as Friedrichs "Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog" (Illustration Book, Colour Plate 60), Romantic artists aimed to evoke a variety of emotions. In comparison David painted weighty and important subjects which made...