Rousseau And The Artists Of The French


Rousseau And The Artists Of The French Revolution Essay, Research Paper

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, (1712-1778) was a French social philosopher and writer. His book Du Contrat Social, ou Principes du droit politique (Social Contract) published in 1762, emphasised the rights of the people over the government and was a significant influence on the French Revolution . Rousseau believed that people were not social beings by nature. He stated that Society corrupts individuals by bringing out their inclination toward aggression and selfishness . Fundamental to Rousseau s beliefs for the utopia of society was for each individual to believe in the same collective way to govern society. He believed that individuals should give up their rights of personal selflessness for the good of society as a whole. His answer therefore was to find a form of association which defends and protects with all common forces the person and goods of each associate, and by means of which each one, whilst uniting with all, nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as free as before . . . . . When structuring his utopia of the General Will Rousseau believed that although the natural man perceived himself as an individual, he must learn to think collectively in order to create a society . Therefore to evolve into a humane and agreeable society people should give up their natural rights of appetite and conform to society by consenting to the process of law which has made them free – collectively consenting to the general will – a single correct path for people to follow or the policy which is equal in everyone s interests.

Rousseau believed that it was wrong for the sovereign power over society to be held by just one man the King. He believed that the people as a whole should be sovereign (the term Rousseau uses for the body of citizens acting collectively, with authority over themselves) . In the Social Contract he argues that government is justified only if sovereignty stays with the people. Therefore whilst the sovereignty could be delegated in various ways it could not be transferred and resides ultimately with society as a whole, with the people, who can withdraw it when necessary

In order for the objectives of the general will to be fulfilled it must be accepted by one and all through educating society to overcome their appetite to vote in accordance of their own personal interests, or particular will. People need to be brought up the right way so that they learn to cherish one another as brothers . This cements the social bond and widens each person s view so they take an interest in the state as a whole, and hence will naturally seek to advance the general will . People therefore had to vote in a way that was, in their view the morally correct outcome, for the common good, that is, for Rousseau a matter of voting in accordance with the idea of the general will .

So what was the ideal state that was so important to Rousseau. He knew that by writing the Social Contract that he would offend both the French and Genevan ecclesiastic authorities and was likely to be sent into exile. He believed that laws should express the general will of the people and assumes that genuine democracy presupposes a classless society . Rousseau thinks that there is something wrong with people who are always driven by their own desires – they are not behaving in a way benefiting their status as people and if anyone, after publicly recognising these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death: He has committed the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the law . Could Rousseau therefore be regarded as the first totalitarian socialist based upon his principals defined in the Social Contract ? To corroborate, he believed that social order is a sacred right which is at the foundation of all other rights and also felt that a fair system of government is linked to a rough equality of wealth and power . In order for Rousseau s utopia – the General Will , to succeed it was important for the people to respect each other and to see the government as their government .

Jacques Louis David (1748-1825), was the leading French painter during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era . He painted primarily in the neo-classical style, dealing with serious, moral or intellectual subjects and improving on nature by perfecting it s forms . It was not uncommon for eighteenth century writers and artists to use subjects from the ancient world as indirect criticism (or comment) of their own society .

The Oath Of The Horatii (Oil on canvas, 330 x 425cm, 1784. Signed: L. David faciebat Romae Anno MDCCLXXXIV, Mus e du Louvre, Paris) is one of David s most renowned paintings and occupies an extremely important place the history of French painting . The classical story behind the painting would have been well known in eighteenth century France and depicts three Horatii sons/brothers chosen to settle a dispute by fighting three champions of the Curiatii. The drama lay in the fact that one of the sisters of the Curiatii, Sabina, is married to one of the Horatii, while one of the sisters of the Horatii, Camilla, is betrothed to one of the Curiatii . Despite the ties between the two families, the Horatii’s father exhorts his sons to fight the Curiatii and they obey, despite the lamentations of the women . The painting is dated 1784, two years before the French government faced bankruptcy and subsequently increased taxes (the traditional start for documentation of the French Revolution ). However, it seem tempting to forge a link between the painting and the presentiment of family against family in revolutionary civil war The painting shows the father encouraging his sons to at the least fight for their rights, and possibly die for the state. It shows the comradary of the three brothers linking one arm whilst raising the other to swear an oath of allegiance. The majority of the painting follows the classical style by depicting the males as muscular and highly defined, their fixed, stern facial expressions reflecting the dignity of their moral and patriotic purpose . The women are clearly separated from the men and are portrayed in softer delineation and more sensuous tones. The painting is extremely large, both in height and width and was constructed for public exhibition. It can therefore be perceived as didactical to the common people – prophesying what was yet to come- oaths, sacrifice, devotion to duty, obligation, aggression? Certainly the painting took on an explicitly political meaning as the revolution erupted .

As the revolution evolved so did David s position as the leading French painter during the French Revolution, his style was seized upon as the perfect expression of the reformist ambitions of the revolutionaries . He adopted a realistic rather than neo-classical painting style in order to record scenes of the French Revolution. One of his three paintings of `martyrs of the Revolution’ was The Death Of Marat (Oil on canvas, 160 x 125 cm, 1793. Signed: A Marat, David. L’an Deux, Mus es Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels). In 1793, France was in danger and the Revolution was in peril. The Committee of Public Safety had just been created. The Reign of Terror had begun . Marat, Robespierre’s friend, a deputy to the Convention, and editor-in-chief of L’Ami du Peuple has been murdered by a young Royalist from Caen, Charlotte Corday David was invited by the Convention to paint Marat’s portrait. and the result was the creation of this idealised image of Marat dying – his eyelids drooping and head weighing heavily on his shoulder. The scene inevitably calls to mind a rendering of the “Descent from the Cross.” By depicting Marat in this sepulchral imagery the painting symbolises martyrdom – connotations of the individual that has sacrificed himself for the greater society/state – let us look and admire him .

It is evident through the writings of Rousseau detailed combined with the sentiment behind David s work that state, or society collectively, is more important than an individual. In his capacity as member of the Committee of General Security, David was party to sanctioning nearly 300 arrested individuals to the guillotine . Rousseau s words were used by Robespierre and others as justification of the Reign of Terror. Therefore it can be stated that either directly, or indirectly – let him be punished by death , both individuals were prepared for blood to be spilt in the cause for improved state.

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