Allegory under the Consulate

Allegory under the Consulate

  • The French Hercules.

    HENNEQUIN Philippe Auguste (1763 - 1863)

  • Allegory of 18 Brumaire.

    CALLET Antoine François (1741 - 1823)

  • Allegory of the Concordat.

    FRANCOIS Pierre-Joseph-Célestin (1759 - 1851)

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Title: The French Hercules.

Author : HENNEQUIN Philippe Auguste (1763 - 1863)

Creation date : 1800

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 260 - Width 280

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas mounted on the ceiling of the Antonins room in the Louvre

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot / C. Jean

Picture reference: 88EE1761 / INV 20097

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Jean

Allegory of 18 Brumaire.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. Bellot

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Title: Allegory of the Concordat.

Author : FRANCOIS Pierre-Joseph-Célestin (1759 - 1851)

Creation date : 1802

Date shown: April 1802

Dimensions: Height 113 - Width 135

Technique and other indications: Context of a competition organized on 26 Germinal Year X (April 16, 1802) to celebrate the Peace of Amiens and the Concordat Oil on canvas Donation by the Baroness of Alexandry d'Orengiani, 1924

Storage location: National Museum of Malmaison Castle website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palaissite web

Picture reference: 91DE3536 / MM 40-47-2886

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

After the coup d'état of 18 and 19 Brumaire Year VIII (9-10 November 1799), which transformed the French Republic, until then a democratic collegiate government, into an authoritarian state marked by the personality of one man, the artists undertook to commemorate either the founding act of the new regime, or the major events of the Consulate (1799-1804), such as the Concordat and the Peace of Amiens (1802).

Image Analysis

The painting Hennequin, a Jacobin artist student of David and who had been close to Babouvist circles, was produced in 1800 to complete the decoration of the Muséum central des arts, installed in the Louvre. It represents Hercules (representing the People), accompanied by Minerva (the Assembly), slaying Discord and War. The figure of Hercules, very calm, is found in the upper part of the composition, which has two registers.

Exhibited at the Salon of 1800, the sketch for the painting by Callet, a former official painter to Louis XVI, was produced on a large scale, no doubt at the request of the consuls. The work, enlarged and transformed into a ceiling although it was absolutely not intended for this use, is divided into two registers which perfectly show the evolution of the republican regime under Bonaparte. According to the Salon's booklet, it represents "the state vessel [which] emerges from the port". At the top, victorious France (we are after Marengo) holds a branch of laurel. It is raised on a shield supported by the fifteen armies of the Republic. But an Egyptian figure who symbolizes Bonaparte's army accompanies him. Below, Hercules, who represents the government, crushes the enemies of order and peace.

The painting of François is part of the context of a competition organized on 26 Germinal Year X (16 April 1802) to celebrate the Peace of Amiens and the Concordat. His painting was not rewarded although it presents a composition quite similar to that of Callet's painting. It also has two parts materialized by a base. Above an altar from which a ray of light emerges, appears Religion. On the plinth of this altar stand Pope Pius VII on the left and on the right the naked figure of Bonaparte, heroic in the ancient times. On his head burns the fire of heroes. A Victory crowns him. At their feet gather the faithful while a bishop encourages atheists to look at religious Truth. On the right, Mars chases Discord.

The Revolution had imagined new allegorical figures to materialize the sovereign power of the People conquered in 1789, such as Hercules. Minerva, for her part, represented the National Assembly, the delegated power of the nation. During the Convention and the Directory, Hercules was always at the top of the tables. With the Consulate, Bonaparte having taken power in his own name, Hercules was relegated to the lower part of the compositions as is the case with Callet, the First Consul having taken his place above. Become in the allegorical discourse an ancient hero, he was very often represented naked, thus replacing Hercules / the People. The Jacobins accepted with great difficulty this evolution of the Republic towards personalized power, as we see in Hennequin: for him, it is always the People / Hercules who reigns over France at the top of the composition.
This difference in pictorial conception was due to the fact that the consular government was in itself ambiguous: the Consulate was the Republic, but the People no longer had a say, Bonaparte deciding on its behalf without having recourse to it. The evolution towards the Empire was also done in large part to resolve this difficulty: France had to be a democratic or monarchical regime.

Interpretation

Bonaparte did not like allegorical painting. Desiring above all to impose his regime and his image, to present himself as the savior of France, he felt that the obscure language of allegory could not in this context be immediately understood by all. On the other hand, allegory allowed opposing artists like Hennequin to manipulate it to their liking and take advantage of the ambiguities of power. This was one of the main reasons for his failure in the 1802 competition. Moreover, the First Consul found it "ridiculous and bizarre" to dress his contemporaries in the antique style, when they were not naked. This is why as soon as he became emperor, Bonaparte set about imposing, through Denon, director of the Louvre and true dictator of the arts, the imagery of the major events of his reign, obviously easier to decipher for the general public.

  • 18 and 19 Brumaire year VIII
  • allegory
  • Consulate
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • Pius VII
  • myth

Bibliography

Jeremiah BENOIT Philippe-Auguste Hennequin (1762-1833) Paris, Arthéna, 1994.

Marc SANDOZ Antoine-François Callet. 1741-1823 Paris, Editart, 1985.

Jérémie BENOIT, "Allegorical painting under the Consulate: structure and policy", in Gazette of Fine Arts February 1993, p. 77-92.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "The allegory under the Consulate"


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