The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781 (cropped) by John Singleton Copley
Artists such as Picasso, David, and Goya came to grips with the political upheavals of their day with heroic and searing images that elicit our admiration or moral outrage. Picasso’s Guernica, for example, is more than a fractured scene of the horror, pain, and chaos during the bombing of a Basque town during World War I. It is also an indelible political statement about the tragedies of modern technological warfare, especially the indiscriminate killing of civilians. Francisco Goya’s The Third of May, 1808, is a scathing indictment of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, while Jacque-Louis David finds opportunities for myth-making about the French revolutionaries.
Art historian Judy Scott Feldman examines the complex interplay between artistic expression and social and political content. She looks at four historical turning points and the powerful art works that can both inspire patriotic sentiment and, as in the recent cases of toppled Confederate statues, provoke political debate about the meaning of history and national identity.
June 6 The French Revolution: Contrasting Visions of David and Goya
One of the most politically engaged as well as prolific artists during the French Revolution was Jacques-Louis David. His earliest paintings from the 1780s seemed to foreshadow the political ideals and fervor of the 1789 revolution. Within a decade he was official painter of the revolution, then official painter—and propagandist for Napoleon. Paintings of stark realism by Francisco Goya and Paul Delaroche challenge David’s myth-making.
June 13 Reformation and Counter-Reformation: Artists Take Up the Cause
To make or to break images: That was a question during the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation. Protestant reformers called on followers to strip churches of biblical paintings and statues, believing they violated the commandment against the making of graven images. Artists sought out new patrons beyond the Church, and new subjects including portraiture and landscape. In contrast, artists in Catholic countries thrived as the Church reaffirmed and promoted religious art as a crucial aid to Christian worship and piety.
June 20 Art in the Wake of World War I: Reacting to a World in Chaos
Artists from England, France, and Germany depicted their experiences of war and memorialized loss following World War I. They gave rise to new forms of art and anti-art that both responded to the chaos and horrors that upended European civilization from 1914 to 1918 and offered hope for a different and better future.
June 27 The American Revolution and Civil War: Controversies About the Stories We Tell
John Trumbull’s epic portrayal of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and other scenes of the American Revolution for the U.S. Capitol’s Rotunda drew the admiration of Thomas Jefferson but the disapproval of John Adams. What would guide the role of art in the new republic: truth or myth-making? Consider how art created in earlier times can become controversial, such as symbolically charged images such as Confederate monuments.
World Art History Certificate core course: Earn 1 credit*
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