Sunday, October 04, 2009

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #9 - Minerva Protecting the Young King of Rome

Minerva Protecting the Young King of Rome, 1811
Joseph-Antoine Romagnési, Plaster, painted to resemble yellowish stone; green marbleized wood (frame only)
45 1/2 x 29 in. (115.6 x 73.7 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ah, Roman mythology! The Neoclassical artists loved nothing more than to revisit these stories and see how well they could create the ideal aesthetic. In this relief sculpture, Minerva, the Roman Goddess of war and wisdom, is sheltering the child of Napoleon who he named as his heir and the King of Rome. Her pose is a classical stance from Greek and Roman sculpture, the contrapposto pose. The boy has his arm draped around a she-wolf which reminds the viewer about the legend of Romulus & Remus, the two brothers who were the founders of Rome, suckled and raised by a protective she-wolf.

This sculpture was created commemorating the birth of François-Chrles-Joseph, known as Napoleon II. Finally Napoleon had an heir to his empire. This piece is highly propagandistic - Napoleon wanted to have art and symbols tying his son to the glory of Rome and the empire that leaders continued to try to emulate.

Not a lot is known about Ramagnéi's early career. He became a professional artist after the Revolution. The sculpture, though created in plaster, was painted to look like the more lasting material stone. Marble was more costly, so it also made it look more expensive and precious. It was common for sculptors of this time to complete their designs in plaster and then take it to a professional stone carver to complete it in stone. This work was never realized in marble.

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