Introduction to Series: Behind the Canvasses
Monumental paintings depicting historical events from countries all over the world abound in major museums, but when we look at, say, a group of richly costumed men emerging from a building carrying weapons, or a seemingly drunken mob led by two women in white, what do we really know about the events behind those scenes? This series will bring real life depth to works we discover as well an art historian’s perspective on what makes the paintings themselves masterpieces.
Jacques Louis David’s Intervention of the Sabine Women poses many questions, among them: why are the main protagonists fighting in the nude? Why is centre of the battle populated with women and children?
The colossal canvas depicts a scene from the founding myth of Rome. Roman men, needing more women for reproductive purposes, abducted a large number of them from the nearby Sabine tribe.
In the aftermath of that rape (immortalized in Poussin’s Rape of the Sabine Women) the Sabine men return to fight the Romans. But the Sabine women have borne the Romans’ children and want to stop the fighting. The date is painted next to the artist’s signature: 1799. After the bloody years of the Revolution and Terror, could this painting be read as the artist’s plea to put a stop to violence?
This talk will unpick the myth and how it was understood by its contemporary audience. It will also explore the Neoclassical aesthetic, looking at how this style held up in the heady years of post-Terror Paris, when social codes had been shattered and the survivors of the Revolution were out for a good time.
About the Instructor
Caroline Rossiter, a U.K. native, is an adoptive Parisienne and has been wandering Paris's narrow streets and leafy boulevards since 2003. She holds an undergraduate degree in French and Art History with a specialty in 19th-century art and literature, and pursued graduate studies in Art History at Paris 4 La Sorbonne, writing a thesis on popular imagery and caricature in Revolutionary and Napoleonic Paris. Her writing has been published in Apollo Magazine, the TLS, Condé Nast Traveler and WSJ Magazine. She teaches specialist English and Art History at universities Paris 3 and Paris 4.
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