|Madame Recamier by Jacques-Louis David, circa 1800, Louvre, Paris.|
|David's self-portrait from jail.|
|Marie Antoinette's bedchamber at Versailles. There is a hidden door through which she attempted her escape at the beginning of the French Revolution. Please compare this opulence with the sparseness of the Madame Recamier portrait.|
Oath of the Horatii (1784) or The Death of Socrates (1787) and The Death of Marat (1793). The French Revolution began 1789 and finally ended in 1799; Madame Recamier was done a year later, in 1800, and succinctly summarizes all that David had learned from the Revolution and what he hoped the Revolution would mean for everyone in the end: freedom.
|The separation of the foreground, filled with light, from the dark background.|
|The Ditchley Portrait, Queen Elizabeth I.|
But there is more.
|To enlarge, simply click on any of the images.|
|Not only does the lamp stand suggest the "ancient lamp of wisdom," but that it is superior to all other knowledge because David endows it with height above all else in the panting, even the woman herself.|
If you will, please contrast it with the wig of Marie Antoinette; Madame Recamier's is natural, no powder, no wigging, and her natural locks showing naturally symbolizes the dominance of "natural thought" in French political thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his theory of the Natural Human (but David doesn't go quite as primitive as Rousseau). The state of nature for which Rousseau advocated influenced--not dominated--the French Revolution and one of the limits for David as we can see is that Madame Recamier is in a civil environment, not a natural one (such as by a spring or amongst trees). Yet the last detail, her head-band, is imperative to understanding David's political thinking: the thoughts must be disciplined and even restrained (because that's what a head band does, contains wild wisps of hair, symbolizing wild thoughts).
Age of Enlightenment as Queen and goddess in the person of Madame Recamier. Again, it's wise of us to remember how political revolutions have been encoded in the past, as we will have a chance to refer to these elements in upcoming posts on films which are probably politically revolutionary themselves.
|King Louis XVI of France in regal style.|