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Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the Louvre in Paris looking at a large canvas by dellacroix Liberty leading the people this painting dates to 1830 this is romanticism and it depicts an event of 1830 this is a contemporary subject it's important to remember that large paintings like this were generally reserved for history paintings at least according to the rules of the Academy but here like Jerico before him Villa is taking on a contemporary subject this is something that people in Paris experienced in July of 1830 this was the revolution that outdid the reactionary King Charles the 10th and installed on the throne the more moderate King Louis Philippe but we're seeing a moment where the outcome of the revolution is not sure we're seeing fighting on the streets of Paris we see the very recognizable Cathedral of Notre Dom in the background Notre Dame was a symbol of the monarchy it was a symbol of conservativism and yet dellacroix represents at the top of one of its towers the tricolor the flag of the revolutionaries Liberty is an allegorical figure she is a symbol of an idea that led the revolutionaries many of them to give up their lives to ask a conservative and reactionary monarch one might just think of the Statue of Liberty that's not an actual person it's a personification of an idea and here too this woman is a personification of the idea of Liberty the idea of freedom the fact that her breasts are visible is a reference to antiquity to the birth of democracy to ancient Greece and the Roman Republican tradition Liberty strides across the barricade this barrier that has been set up in the streets of Paris Paris was still a medieval city with narrow winding streets the grand boulevards of the later 19th century had not yet been built and so what the revolutionaries did is they dug up the cobblestones that paved the streets and they piled them up and erected these barricades we're both defensive positions but also impeded the movements of the royalist troops but what's fascinating to me is this call by Liberty to climb over the barricade to trespass that barrier and to move forward to continue to fight even more aggressively for these ideals liberties face is shown in a perfect classical profile recalling ancient Greek and Roman images but in doing so she's also turning around to call the rebels forward and we can see this throng of people moving into the distance but in the foreground we see two very particular figures we see a man with a pistol in his waist he wears a shirt with no jacket he's a member of the lower class depending his hat expresses that he's got revolutionary sympathies Dilek was clearly giving us this idea of people of all classes coming together because the figure right next to the worker is more nicely dressed he's got a top hat on a jacket a vest he holds a hunting rifle instead of a pistol and so this revolution is not only for the poor it's also for the middle classes which is what makes it so profoundly dangerous this is not one class against another these are the people coming together on the right side of the canvas is a boy who holds not one but two pistols and seems rather wild he's a schoolboy and you know that from the velvet cap he wears and from the satchel at his side below him we see two soldiers who have fallen and so it's not just that de la cross giving us this sense of victory of Liberty striding forward but also the terrible costs of revolutions best summed up for me by the man in the lower left who's wearing a nightshirt as if he's been dragged from his bed and murdered by loyalist soldiers he's only wearing one sock his shirt has drawn up and so he's nude from the waist down and his shirt his body incredibly close to us in fact his right arm is foreshortened and moves into our space but the figures in the foreground of the dead and the dying and the wounded are all in our space this is a painting much like Jericho so after the Medusa or gross pest house at Jaffa that puts forward the violence in an [Music] unidentified nose with smoke with movement and yet dellacroix has also contrived a classicizing pyramid to organize all of these figures creating a sense of order within the chaos one of the reasons the painting feels so energetic is because of the loose brushwork and because of the brilliant colors that dellacroix uses the tricolor of the Blues in the sky the red sash of the figure that looks up to Liberty all stand out and are in stark contrast to the more muted colors that were traditional at this moment Delacroix is violating so many of the rules of the academy this is not a painting with perfect finish in other words we easily see the hand of the artist the brushwork this is not a painting where we see a careful attention to line and contour rather we have a sense of the openness of contours of the looseness of the handling of the pain and the contingency of each of these figures that if we waited just a moment they would all have shifted position this painting was purchased by King louis-philippe to show that he was a champion of republican values and by Republicans we mean the ideals of democracy but before the decade was over in 1839 the peeping was returned to Delacroix because it was perceived as dangerous this was an image that showed people coming together to overthrow a king after all but in 1848 at the time of the next revolution when we Philebus rousted this painting is returned to the museum once again this is a good reminder of just how politicized art could be in the 19th century in France [Music]