History, history painting and concepts of gloire in the life and work of Jacques-Louis David
This thesis shows how Jacques-Louis David successfully manipulated the art of history painting so as to establish his own gloire. The works of David are evidence of the success of this artist's aspirations as they demonstrate that he understood processes of figurative invention and of communication. When referring to the art of Poussin, the most eminent example of a painter as grand homme in late eighteenth-century France, David did not merely copy or plagiarise motif. Qualities of open-endedness, active provocation and perpetual dynamic continue to distinguish his own history paintings. This study seeks to re-integrate recent art historical writings on theories of reception with an examination of artists' processes of production and with speculation concerning possible intention. Alongside the writers of tragedy, history painters knowingly treated the variability of history as a spur to inventions, which sought to move by presenting complex motive and problematic cause and effect. By examining the ways in which stories have been translated into different forms of art, the particular conventions and boundaries of a range of media are revealed. The first sections deal with past perceptions of history, of how it was to be written and of how it was to be depicted. David's formation as a history painter is placed within a humanist tradition that valued formulations of the grand homme and notions of gloire. Further chapters locate this artist's works within the changing cultural contexts to which they belonged and of which they were a part. The study concludes with an examination of how new conditions, created by the upheavals of the Revolution, affected David and irrevocably altered the art of history painting.