Artibus et Historiae no. 15 (VIII)1987, ISSN 0391-9064
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JOHN F. MOFFITT - Art and Politics: An Underlying Pictorial-Political Topos in Courbert's Real Allegory
Gustave Courbet subtitled the massive painting (1855) depicting his Studio a "real allegory". In practice, this puzzling conjunction of disparate terminology signifies an assemblage of symbolic figures in contemporary dress arranged into a moralized (left vs. right) compositional scheme; the entire ensemble is expressed, however, in a vigorously naturalistic painterly language. Although print-sources have been identified for major canvases by Courbet preceding L'Atelier, to date none has been found to account overall for two significant factors: the anomalous, triptych-like composition and the underlying revolutionary exaltation of "la Liberté". To explain these factors, I propose an engraving, published in 1789 by Claude Niquet, which celebrated the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen" by employing a similarly symbolic composition and apparently parallel allegorizing motifs. Significant correspondences of format, thematics and personifications are discussed and related to what is known of the metaphorical references in L'Atelier and to Courbet's expressed artistic ideas and political sentiments.