This purpose of this essay serves to discuss the portrayal of both women and men within the neo-classicism period in France. In order to do this one first needs to analyse and compare the concepts of Classicism and Humanism, seeing how they relate and differ. The analysis of these two movements are essential to understanding Neo-classicism and its influences as well as their reasons and interpretations for the use of female and males forms in their various creations of artworks.
Defining and understanding the concepts of Classicism
In order to understand the influence that Classicism had and why, it is important to examine Classicism first from the Greek society where their basis of artistic creation was influenced by and stemmed from their mind-set, outlook and ideals based within their society. According to (Greenhalgh 1996) The Classical qualities that have given Greek art its prominent place in the development of Western art are marked by “clarity and unity, balance and restraint, symmetry and proportion, harmony and decorum”. To paraphrase (ARH2601 2013:4) The most successful point of the Greek’s artistic achievement within Classicism can be seen as their dominant use of the human form mostly depicted in an idealised fashion with any natural imperfections having been removed. “In the classical period, all imperfections of the human body are purged in favour of an idealised flawlessness. The classical nude is eternally youthful, serene, dignified and liberated from all constraints of nature”. (ARH2601 2013:5). With this said the male figure dominated the portrayal of the human form in Greek society and art from this period, with a lesser focus and emphasis on the female form and portrayal of women. It can be said that at this time beauty was something associated with and defined by men rather than that of women. It was also more acceptable for men to be portrayed in the nude than was it was for women. Substantiated by (ARH20601 2013:9) “In Greece the male form resigned supreme and male homosexuality was a recognized practice. Greek women on the other hand, were not generally regarded as suitable objects for higher human affections, were not permitted in social life and there beauty not rated to that equal of me.” (ARH20601 2013:9). Through these characteristics of Classicism, specifically their use of the human form, we can see its effect and influence on movements such as humanism, realism and idealism which essentially influenced Western art and provided the guidelines and standards for what they viewed and termed as beauty. Further elaborating in (ARH2601 2013:13) “This synthesis of humanism, realism and Idealism in the representation of the freestanding nude came to define the standard of beauty in Western art and had a profound influence on Western cultural expression at least until the 19th century”.
Neo-classicism and its roots
Neo-classicism can be seen as the Age of Reason due to the belief by philosophers, that we as society are able to have control over our destinies through learning from and following the laws of nature (Dr. Beth Gersh-Nesic 2014:sp). The subject matter of Neo-classicism was characteristic of Patriotisms, sacrifice, courage, honour and human rights. Its artistic styles reflected symmetry, proportion and simplicity achieved during the Renaissance period. Formal composition, accurate detail and solid lines are other key artistic features noticeable in the Neo-classical style.
According Dr Gersh-Nesic (2014:sp) “Neoclassicism continued the connection to the Classical tradition because it signified moderation and rational thinking but in a new and more politically-charged spirit”. To paraphrase, this links to the Greek’s outlook on their artistic characteristic being a reaction to their state of mind and way of thinking shaped by the society of their times. The evident characteristics that can be seen in that of neo-classicism are that of clarity of form, sober colours, shallow space, strong horizontal and verticals, often framing the artwork in that of a triangular composition, also very evident in the classical movement, particular a composition favoured by the Greeks. It is also known for its temporary settings and costumes.
The analysis and discussion of three Neo-classical artworks to determine the portrayal of men and women to determine what they signify and how they are being represented as a man or women in the artwork.
First painting of discussion is that of Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii, 1784.
David modelled his male figures on the ideal Greek warrior and the focus was on the ideal human from. With that said to understand the warriors as a portray of men in the artwork and what they symbolise, it can be argued that these men are being depicted as reflecting man in society and what they stood for in terms of patriotism, self-sacrifice and their duty to society and their country at the time. We can some to this conclusion considering the background and historical circumstance in which the artwork was created. The background is being depicted as flat with much darker colours contrasting that of the use of colours in the foreground, focusing emphasis on characters and action taking place in the foreground. Characters that are dominant in the artwork, such as the men are portrayed in a rigid composition, whereas the women in the artwork, expressing slightly more emotion than the men, are portrayed in a curvature composition giving those more of a vulnerable representation, almost as if they are in mourning. Although, with this said, booth the emotion from the men and women in the artwork, are still presented in a very controlled manner and are not over emphasised or exaggerated.