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What Similar Characteristics Do Paintings of the Time of the French Revolution and Ancient Greek Art Have and Why?
There hardly can be a period in the art that did not make any mark in history and did not impact on the following periods in the art. The ancient Greece period was the period that has significant cultural and scientific impact on the next periods. Even nowadays, some inventions and ideas of that period are actual. Taking this into account, there is nothing wondering in the fact that some inventions and ideas of ancient Greece were topical and had influenced on the other periods in art. One of such periods is the art of the French Revolution period. At that period public virtue, personal sacrifice, restraint, and discipline became topical. That made artists pay attention to the ancient Greece art, where those topics were pronounced. However, not only topics of the ancient Greece art but also its aesthetic also affected the works of the artists of the French Revolution period. This way, paintings of the time of the French Revolution and ancient Greek art get similar characteristics.
Before comparing any phenomena one have to characterize both of them. As far as ancient Greek art was historically earlier, it seems to be logical to give the characteristic firstly to it. As it noticed Wang, in ancient Greek aesthetics there was an essential concept named imitation, or mimesis. The ancient artists and theoreticians of art claimed that all art is an imitation of the different phenomena that exist in the world. It is quite hard to retort to this statement in the context of different kinds of visual art as far as depicting real world was its main aim during centuries. However, imitation in ancient Greek art was not thoughtless copying everything ancient Greek artists could see. Wang referred to Lionello Venturi, noticing the correctness of Venturi’s remark about the concept of imitation in ancient Greece that imitation of nature in it “is necessary, but similarly, idealization of nature is also necessary, which accord with physical and ethical good, and conform to mathematical relationship and noble sentiment” (31). This way, it is important to notice that imitation in ancient Greek art was not a strict imitation of phenomena of the world but the imitation of a quite idealized nature. In other words, ancient Greek artists tried to choose that phenomena of nature that were aesthetic. One more important tendency, noticed by Wang, is “the scientific trend in ancient Greek art. The mathematical idea of Pythagoras gave a foundation for their relationship, as he said, “Everything is number” (31). This way, two main bases of ancient Greek art were aesthetic and science. The first one helped to choose the object for imitation and the second one helped to make the art object in the best way. As the example of ancient Greek art can be considered the famous statue of Laocoön (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica). This statue depicts the scene of myth about Laocoön, according to which Laocoön and his sons were killed by snakes.
One has to notice that the fact of using myths and legends as sources for art was normal for ancient Greek artists. Thus, Laocoön is also the example of this trend. There is one more trend one can see looking at the figures of the sculpture. According to the legend, Laocoön was the priest (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica). As one can suggest, the work of priest does not require high physical activity. However, one can see that the figure of Laocoön is athletic. Each muscle in his body is carefully depicted. The figures of his sons are also athletic. This way one can see in this sculpture mentioned above imitation of human nature – and this imitation is not strict but idealized. Priest and his sons are depicted as mighty athletes. One more important point about the sculpture that must be noticed is the mouths of the people of the sculpture. Their mouths are depicted at a moment before opening as far as the open mouth in the sculpture could look like a black hole. The authors of the sculpture avoided that and depicted mouths of Laocoön and his sons only a little bit opened. Considering faces, one must notice the specific facial features of the figures. They included the straight nose, deep-set eyes, rounded chin, and curved line of lips. Facial features like this have the most of ancient Greek sculptures, and this allows suggesting that it was ideal of beauty of that time. This way this is one more manifestation of the aesthetic in ancient Greek art – and also science as far as it is highly likely that such ideal of beauty did not appear accidentally but was mathematically calculated. The most important fact is that ancient Greek ideals are not forgotten and even contemporary art can manifest references to it. As Wang noticed, “in the field of art, the rationalism established itself in ancient Greek artistic creations at first. After a concealed period of middle ages, it reappeared again as painting, sculpture and architecture in Renaissance and then in neoclassicism” (Wang 33). Thus, ancient Greek art and its ideals had the greatest influence on several periods.
Considering the art of the French Revolution period one must notice that it can be separated in two artistic styles. The first one is Rococo, “a decorative style of the early to mid-18th century derived from the French word rocaille meaning shell (“Neo-Classicism And The French Revolution | Oxford Art”). The second one is Neo-classicism – “classical revival of the later 18th century was distinctive for its emphasis on archaeological exactitude, the result of the period’s unprecedented level of knowledge of the art and architecture of the ancient world” (“Neo-Classicism And The French Revolution | Oxford Art”). The interest to the ancient world and art manifested at that period in “the Grand Tour, the systematic excavation of the Roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii and the exploration and recording of the monuments of the Greek islands and mainland” (“Neo-Classicism And The French Revolution | Oxford Art”).
What is more, all that “accompanied by the publication of large-format illustrated books, considerably expanded the repertoire of artistic models available to artists” (“Neo-Classicism And The French Revolution | Oxford Art”). It must be clear that Neoclassicism was based on the ancient Greek art, and facts from above confirm it. As far as Neoclassicism was one of the styles of the art of The French Revolution period, this way one can see in it the relation between paintings of the time of the French Revolution and ancient Greek art. The reason for this relation and of the interest of artists of The French Revolution period to ancient Greek art one can find in the text published on the official site of The National Gallery of Art. There are considered the artworks of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the painter of The French Revolution period. It is clear that before talking about the particular artist, it must be done general notice about the period when he lived and worked. As it is remarked, “as revolution neared, artists increasingly sought noble themes of public virtue and personal sacrifice from the history of ancient Greece or Rome”, and that “they painted with restraint and discipline, using the austere clarity of the neoclassical style to stamp their subjects with certitude and moral truth” (The National Gallery of Art). Thus, one can see not only the way of the relation between paintings of the time of the French Revolution and ancient Greek art but also the reason for it. That reason was the topic and style of ancient Greek art – public virtue and personal sacrifice, restraint, and discipline, were the characteristics close to the ideas of the French Revolution. That is why Neoclassicism was the main style of art of its period.
Except the theoretical claim, it obviously has to be the practical comparison of the art of the French Revolution period with the art of ancient Greece. As it was noticed, one of the brightest results of the heroic phase of Neoclassical painting was Jacques-Louis David’s work Oath of the Horatii (“Neo-Classicism And The French Revolution | Oxford Art”). Even the name of the picture refers to the ancient time, and the view of the picture clearly shows that it is about the ancient Rome. Even though in the picture is about the scene from the history of ancient Rome, not Greece, one must notice that ancient Rome was largely a successor of ancient Greece and thus here one can see the relation of the French Revolution art and ancient Greece art where ancient Rome is the intermediary. What is more, in the picture we can see the aesthetic features typical for ancient Greece art. Paying attention to the faces of the people on the picture, one can see the same straight noses, deep-set eyes, and rounded chins that have ancient Greece sculptures. What is more, one have to paying attention to some other features of the picture, which are typical for ancient Greece art in general. One of them is a topic.
Fight, a quite typical topic for ancient Greece with its famous heroic epics and myths full of fights and competitions, is depicted on the picture. On Oath of the Horatii there is armor which three men wore and swords that their father gives them. One must notice that the figures of the men on the picture have the same detailed muscles that are at Laocoön sculpture. This way, here one can see the heroical topic in which the artist of the French Revolution period was interested. However, Oath of the Horatii is not the only one example of the relation of the art of the French Revolution period and the ancient Greece art. One more example can be the portrait of Madame Moitessier (The National Gallery of Art). The women in ancient Greece usually were depicted quite slim, and Madame Moitessier is quite plump. Her dress also hardly have anything common with ancient Greece togas. Searching for common features with the ancient Greece art one have to pay attention to the face of Madame Moitessier. She has the same straight nose, deep-set eyes, rounded chin, and curved line of lips that ancient Greece statues have. As it is noticed in the description of the picture, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the painter, “presents her with the imposing remoteness of a Roman goddess” (The National Gallery of Art). This way one can see the examples of specific works of the French Revolution period that have features typical for the ancient Greece art. As one can see, there are different types of those features. They begin with topics – for example fighting that was the typical topic for ancient Greece art and become topical in the period of the French Revolution. The finish is common facial features and features of the figures – in both ancient Greece art and the French Revolution period art there are typical faces with straight noses, deep-set eyes, rounded chins, and the curved line of lips, and men figures are usually athletic. This way one can see that relation of ancient Greece art and the French Revolution period art is not only theoretical but it is also manifested in practice.
This way one can conclude about the way paintings of the time of the French Revolution and ancient Greek art get similar characteristics. The reason of that was the fact that topics of public virtue, personal sacrifice, restraint, and discipline became topical in the period of the French Revolution. However, the artists of the French Revolution period paid attention not only to the topics of the ancient Greece art but also to its visual part, to its aesthetic. It also affected their artworks. This is the way how ancient Greece art impacted on art of the French Revolution period and why paintings of these periods have similar characteristics.
“Neo-Classicism And The French Revolution | Oxford Art.” Oxfordartonline.com, 2017, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/page/Neo-classicism-and-the-French-Revolution.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Laocoön.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Laocoon-Greek-mythology.
The National Gallery of Art. “18Th- And 19Th-Century France — Neoclassicism.” Nga.gov, 2017, https://www.nga.gov/features/slideshows/18th-and-19th-century-france-neoclassicism.html.
The National Gallery of Art. “18Th- And 19Th-Century France — Neoclassicism.” Nga.gov, 2017, https://www.nga.gov/features/slideshows/18th-and-19th-century-france-neoclassicism.html#slide_8
Wang, Zhiyong. “A Discussion On Rationalism Of Ancient Greek Art And Its Influences In History.” International Journal Of Literature And Arts, vol 4, no. 3, 2016, pp. 30-33. Science Publishing Group, doi:10.11648/j.ijla.20160403.11.