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Liberty Leading The People History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

During the late eighteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment was going on in France. This was an intellectual movement which talked about reason being the only instrument considerably for social progress. The light of reason was a hope for the humanity to come out of the darkness of tyranny and ignorance. It was built to make the world better. During this time, the art was also valued and rational. The artists used impeccable techniques and exquisitely detailed their work. The type of art which was near to perfect was called neoclassicism and it interpreted the ancient Greek and Roman art. Jacques-Louis David was the most famous artist from France in this movement, followed by his student Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

Young Delacroix was also a painter of that time who begun to paint under this framework. He gradually shifted his direction to the Renaissance paintings as he was inspired by them after first seeing “The raft of the Medusa” by Theodore Gericault. He was not inspired by classical art. He started to focus on the color and movement in his paintings rather than the perfection of the line. “Liberty leading the people” is not just Delacroix’s best painting, but it is the world’s best known painting. It is very commonly used in commercials and pop albums. In fact, the Statue of Liberty is inspired by the painting as it was gifted by the French to the US 50 years after the painting was actually completed. In the art’s point of view, this painting was a shift from neoclassicism to romanticism [1] .

The painting basically demonstrates the July Revolution of 1830 in which there were clashes for three days between civilians and the army of Charles X of France. The autocratic and despotic monarch had led the people into a situation of chaos and despair. The uprising was caused by the unemployment, hunger and mismanagement in which all classes were participating. This painting was made to celebrate the day in which the people came forward and fought for their liberty. The painter also used this painting in the revolution as a political poster. The people rose for their liberty on this day and dethroned the Bourbon king. Delacroix had also participated in this rebellious movement and portrayed himself in the painting.

The female figure that we see in the picture standing in the foreground represents Liberty. The painting is not on the basis of actual events. The only expression used for the figure is freedom. The painting suggests that it was quite unlikely that a half-naked woman led the armed uprising. The painting shows that the woman is holding the French flag and portraying the banner of liberty and equality while standing on top of the dead soldiers who belong to the royal army. Delacroix painted the woman as a goddess-figure and a strong woman. But the main focus remains the Liberty as she is a symbol of persistence, leadership and bravery and reminds the people that women had played an indispensable and important role in the revolutionary uprising of July 1830. She has a Greek profile and her breasts are exposed and thus, she is an allegory of revolution which was seen in the realistic battle field [2] .

It is often wondered that why is the Liberty in the painting showing her breasts, and how does it matter. In the traditional romantic paintings, a topless woman meant that she was not like the other peasant and middle class women; in fact this indicated her power and supernatural strength. This woman is not a woman at all, but rather a symbol represented by Marianne, a French goddess-like figure. She is a symbol of the French Republic. Liberty is not an ordinary lady in this painting; she is a revolutionary goddess who is a warrior of the revolution and Republic. She was not a standard for the women in that society. The symbols of the war were represented in a romantic way through this picture. She was a symbolic woman [3] .

Three men are to the left of Liberty as they show the different categories of workers. One of them is the factory worker, while the other is the student or the chief of the workshop with the gun. The man kneeling to Liberty is a worker from the country who is employed in the building trade. He is staring at Liberty which reflects Delacroix’s quick lines in the painting, as Liberty looks at the man wearing the top hat.

As we know it was a painting made at the time of the revolutionary war taken place in France against the royal army, the people who are holding the weapons are the people who came together to fight for freedom. These people had no class and a sense of participation was present in each and every person who was fighting for liberty. These people had bold attitudes and there are perfectly identifiable weapons and bits of uniform that they show in the painting. The people who lay on the ground are the soldiers from the royal army who are defeated by the people fighting for liberty.

The people lying on the ground are differently dressed as they are people from different classes. The revolutionary war showed that all people came together despite their class and standard. One of them is shabby dressed while the other is not because that one represents a middle class person fighting for liberty while the other depicts the soldier of the royal army. The war included people from different classes who wore different dresses and belonged to different societies. The people from the painting were understood in many ways. Some were represented as fisherman and some by other professions. At many occasions, the painting was considered to be a slander for the people. It was a bridge connecting classicism to romanticism [4] .

With a close look at the painting, it is expressed that the artist’s main concern was the impression of reality to the allegorical situation that was created at that time. He did not have a linear approach, but a painterly approach. He argued at many occasions that the linear approach tends to restrain the visual flexibility of the objects and does not fully satisfy in expressing the molecular movements of segments present in the composition. Thus, the linear approach of his painting shows the discontinuity in the elements. The dramatic scene creates the psychological depth in the painterly space. Delacroix has used light to demonstrate the dramatic volume in three dimensional look.

With the movement of his harsh brush stroke, Delacroix has expressed the rebellious character of the romantic modernity. The rough painted surface gives the impression that there are living entities presented. The painting fully expresses the chromatic life and the energy of that life. However, these elements successfully express the revolutionary ambiance and the greatness of such historic events. Delacroix has basically used his canvas to express his concerns of that time. Through his painting style, he has reflected the demographic composition of the society in which he was living at that time. The Liberty Leading the People is a painting which subjects to the symbolism and formality in the social history of the French nation [5] .

After depicting the social history of the French nation through his most famous painting, Delacroix never painted such a political scene again. He was an ambitious painter and he was recognized as one of the leading artists of the country. He had good relations with all and he did not want to be known as a trouble maker. He turned away from the insurrection after contributing this image of the popular revolt. The painting was bought by the government of French but it was considered to be inflammatory and restricted from the public to view it. Yet throughout his life, Delacroix continued to receive the commissions from the government. He tried to depict the character and the spirit of the people rather than the revolutionary event which was against King Charles X.

Delacroix’s art work changed the art world forever. Many artists that came after him felt his influence in their work. Though it was his one and only political work, it taught many artists about the techniques to apply differing neoclassicism to romanticism.


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