Rude's La Marseillaise Vs. Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People

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  • 0:02 Vive La France
  • 1:01 Rude's La Marseillaise
  • 2:50 Delacroix's Liberty…
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore two different works of art that, while created around the same time and covering a similar subject, turned out very different. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Vive la France

When we talk about revolutions, it's generally a big deal. I can't remember the last time that someone said 'Hey, I switched brands of toothpaste. It's a revolution!' Revolutions topple governments; they change social expectations and redefine culture. So, they're a big deal. And what do we do with things that are a big deal? Why, we make them the subject of art, of course!

The French Revolution of the late 18th century was one of those moments that was a big deal, redefining French society for generations to come. The image of the people rising up against tyranny was one that everybody loved. But it wasn't just the people who appreciated this subject. Various governments in France also enthusiastically used this image of the Revolution to justify their own political agendas. Governments do this. But they do tend to get some great art out of it. Need proof? Well, let's compare the masterpieces of François Rude and Eugène Delacroix and see what a real revolution looks like.

Rude's La Marseillaise

La Marseillaise

One of the earlier artists to capture the spirit of the French Revolution was François Rude. Rude was a supporter of Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 19th century and a prominent sculptor. His most famous work is The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792, more commonly called La Marseillaise, after the name of the French national anthem. This massive relief is attached to the Arc de Triomphe, a giant Roman-inspired monument built to honor the heroes of the French Revolution, and depicts the soldiers of the French Republic leaving to fight the invading Austrian army. Above the soldiers is a winged figure representing Liberty. That's what the Revolution was really fought for, liberty, or the social and political freedoms guaranteed to all citizens. So in this image, the volunteer soldiers are clearly the good guys; they are literally fighting for Liberty.

La Marseillaise was created in the mid-1830s, which is an interesting time for French art. Napoleon had strongly encouraged Neoclassicism, a revival of Greek and Roman styles, as a way to connect his empire to that of ancient Rome. The Arc de Triomphe itself is based on Roman triumphal arches. Rude was a big supporter of Napoleon, and so we see lots of Neoclassical inspiration, from the idealized, even nude figures, to Liberty, who is depicted as a Classical deity, winged and in Classical armor. However, Rude is not actually considered a Neoclassical artist. The dramatic, emotional, and fiery figures are much more Romantic, an emerging artistic style that dealt with freedom and imagination in art. So, in this 12-meter tall relief, we not only see that people in the 1830s were already looking back on this moment with praise but were also using a mixture of styles to do so.

Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People

Liberty Leading the People

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