Saturday, June 16, 2007

Nochlin on Delacroix

"No wonder then that Daumier chose the maternal image over all other possibilities for his allegory of the good Republic of 1848! Motherhood for him, as for most of his contemporaries, was the most positive feminine image available, and by the same token, the least threatening. What better vehicle for setting forth the virtues of the new Republic? I would not maintain that attitudes towards women played an absolute and decisive role in the invention of female political allegories in the nineteenth century--obviously, many other factors intervene--but rather, I am asserting that such attitudes should not be neglected in an attempt to give an adequate reading of these works or in trying to understand their creators' choices or rejections. It is Delacroix, the dandyish elitist and lifelong bachelor, the creator of scenes of female torture and victimization, an artist who satisfied his sexual urges impersonally with his models, who creates an allegorical figure of outright feminine activism, Liberty, the prototypical woman-warrior figure of all time. Indeed it was Delacroix, the friend and portraitist of George Sand rather than the satirist of her accomplishments, who had had the temerity to transform the same Charity image that had inspired Daumier's maternal The Republic (Andrea del Sarto's in the Louvre) into the ferocious but dramatically vivid image of Medea (1838), murderer of her own children, brilliantly reversing all the implications of his conventional model. Domesticity, a salvation at once personal and universal for Daumier, was either conteimptible or irrelevant for Delacroix, maternity only interesting in its perversion. Delacroix's imagination ranged more freely among the possibilities: Enlignthenment liberty and romantic enslavement and savagery could be brought to life with the same sensual vividness in his feminine representations."

--Linda Nochlin, "The Myth of the Woman Warrior" (collected in Representing Women)

This brings perfectly into the focus the significance of those Delacroix images of women that are not the stereotypical ones (Liberty, Medea) but which are some of the most powerful and famous he made. Nochlin identifies J-L David as a painter whose works (more than Delacroix) separate figures into hard masculinity and weak femininity ...

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