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David, pittore e politico con rivoluzione e ritorno.

David, painter and politician with revolution and return.


The name of the French painter Jacques-Louis David is associated almost instantly with the painting of "Napoleon crossing the Alps" and the equally famous "The Oath of the Horatii".

Throughout his life, David experiences the period before the revolution, the revolutionary period and the Napoleonic period with almost unchanged success.

Thanks to his luck (or his politics) we could say: revolutions pass, but David remains.


Small bourgeois was born

Jacques Louis David was born in Paris on 30 August 1748 from a petty bourgeois family. He was orphaned quite soon, so he was entrusted to his maternal uncle, who noticed his predisposition to drawing and recommended him to the king's first painter.

But given the age of the master, little David is entrusted to the younger Joseph Marie Vien who, in addition to having him work in his atelier, has him study at the Acadèmie Royale where he learns the traditional academic techniques of painting.

Family friend Jean Sedaine, Academy secretary and playwright, became his mentor and introduced David to the major cultural figures of the time.

Take part, as a tradition, in the Prix de Rome. Who arrives first wins a three-year scholarship and a trip to Italy to study the best of art.

The eternal second

David comes in second. Even in the following two years he fails to win and Jacques Louis feels himself the victim of an injustice and accumulates resentment towards the representatives of the academic institution.

Finally in 1774 he managed to win and the following year he left for Italy.

David confronts the paintings of Michelangelo, Raphael and the Italian masters and, realizing his shortcomings and limitations, he loses confidence in his means to the point of depression. His teacher Vien procures him the first real assignment which, however, will never be fulfilled.

In 1788 David painted the picture "The lictors bring back the bodies of his children to Brutus", which Salòn refuses to expose so as not to excite the minds already close to the revolution. The newspapers jumped at this "censorship" as an opportunity for criticism of the Academy.

The painting became "fashion". The young people combed their hair like "Brutus" and even the furniture makers copy the "Roman" style painted by David.

David, the revolutionary parliamentarian

Some aristocrats "Progressives" and some friends push David to join the "Club of the Jacobins" and launch a subscription to make David realize the picture of the "Oath of the Pallacorda". The signing of the mammoth painting was unsuccessful and David only made the preparatory drawing.

In 1790 David became politically involved and puts himself at the head of the "dissident academics" and obtains control of Salòn and becomes its "deputy commissioner". Thus inaugurates the "Salòn de la liberté". In addition, by removing some "pebbles" from the shoe, he presents the proposal for the suppression of all the Academies, including the Rome office.

At this point David neglects the activity of a painter to deal with politics. He becomes responsible for revolutionary propaganda and revolutionary celebrations, takes care of embellishing Paris and re-founding the Louvre. He paints celebratory pictures for the heroes of the revolution, including that of Marat when he is assassinated.

There is no scruple to send to the gallows old friends and patrons and to save those he considers friends. At the fall of Robespierre, with the end of the period of "terror", David is arrested and interrogated, but the painter denies any involvement in the recent past. He suffered some time of imprisonment, but in 1795 an amnesty made him a free man again.

Napoleon Bonaparte arrives

Who remembers Paul Cayard? Paul Cayard was the helmsman of the "Moro di Venezia" in the 1992 America's Cup. His "jibes" are famous, that is the ability to turn the ship on itself making a turn of 135 degrees (the nautical experts will forgive me for a description like this summary). 

David? Nothing to envy to Paul Cayard. He writes to Napoleon stating that he is "his hero" and offers him a portrait. Become Napoleon's "court" painter.

Napoleon corrects details and settings for him and David executes. He is awarded the honor of the Legion of Honor.

Towards the end of the Napoleonic parable, relations cool down, because the administration considers David's remuneration exorbitant and blocks his payment.

Napoleon in Sant'Elena and David in Switzerland

Napoleon is in exile and David takes refuge in Switzerland. In 1820 his health deteriorated and in 1825 a paresis hit him right in the hands and, finally, he died on December 29 of the same year.

So changeable and opportunistic in his actions, so much constant and "fixed" the compass of his painting. His remarkable technical qualities, in full coherence with the classic way, have always allowed him to celebrate the powerful of the moment.

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