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The Sabine Women by Jacques-Louis David

our task in this critical essay is to revisit the material and ideas you’ve encountered in our class discussions of Neoclassical, Romantic and Modernist art and poetry as we covered the developments of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.

In your essay, you will explore the individual aesthetic works a bit more deeply and convey your findings in a more formal manner than we did in class. Below, you will find links to three poems and three paintings. These are poems and paintings you should be familiar with from our class discussions, and each set includes one Neoclassical work, one Romantic work and one Modernist work.
For the purposes of the essay, you will choose only one set of examples to work with – either the poetry or the paintings (not both, as we did in class). For each of the three works in your chosen set, you will analyze the work in terms of how it reflects the stylistic tendencies, the thematic concerns, and the general cultural priorities of the style and time period it represents. For instance, what features and details of the Edgar Allan Poe poem called "Annabel Lee" reflect Romanticism and the Romantic style? (And so on for each of the three poems or each of the three paintings.) Support your analysis with clear references to specific details from each work to illustrate your claims.

After analyzing each work in turn (ideally, in chronological order, unless you have a good reason for using a different approach), you'll also be expected to draw comparisons and contrasts among the three works, with your analysis of those juxtapositions informed by the information you have regarding the respective styles and time periods. For instance, each of the poems deals in some way with a love relationship; each also implies something about the passage of time. In each case, however, the attitude to these themes is different. What are those differences, and how can those differences be traced back to the differing motivations and concerns of Neoclassicism, Romanticism, or Modernism (as reflected in your course readings and in the "general principles" document below)?

Similarly, in considering the paintings, each one deals with some kind of conflict. The way in which they each represent those conflicts, however, differs significantly. How do those differences in appearance reflect the stylistic commitments of Neoclassicism, Romanticism, or Modernism? What sort of theme or themes get highlighted in each case, and how can you trace those decisions by the artist or poet to the concerns of the respective time periods from which the works originate?

In addition to the contextual information on each of the three time periods available to you in the Unit 3 reading material, I've made additional information available below. The document titled Some General Principles includes both general information about each of the three cultural periods and some specific aesthetic (artistic) characteristics pertinent to each of the three styles.

The Sabine Women by Jacques-Louis David

The painting represents the work of David in depicting the abduction of the Sabine women by the neighboring Romans and thus the Sabine were in attempt to get them back in the episode painted. The picture takes a reconciliatory theme. The paintwork utilizes the oil and canvas type of paint work modern at the time. In the image, the Sabine women are seen intervening to end or stop the bloodshed with Hersilia seen throwing herself between the king of Rome and her father the king of Sabines (Lajer?Burcharth 400). Thus, the author takes an advocacy approach in depicting the reconciliatory aspect of the French people after the revolution. The painting is critical since women play a critical role unlike in the previous works such as The Oath of the Horatii (Mayer, 231). The painting provides a masterful summary of the whole event as the horseman can be seen putting the sword back to the sheath while the hands are raised as a sign of peace.

Massacre at Chios by Eugene Delacroix

The Massacre at Chios represented the second major oil painting creation by Eugene Delacroix focusing on the massacre on the Island of Chios completed in 1824. In the event, tens of thousands of Greeks were killed by the Ottoman troops in war at the time. The paint measures 4 by meters wide and tall respectively represent an act of desolation and terror (Fraser 23).  In the paint work, Delacroix purposed to use the desperate Greek revolt against the Turks as the primary subject of the paintwork. The artist uses the oil and canvas technique to project the luminous landscape that uses the scorched sun in revealing the group of dying people.

The paint depicted a time of war where all manner of atrocities were committed ranging from raped women, stabbed children, frenzied mothers, and slaughtered victims that provided a terrifying situation amongst the members. Moreover, it shows a child trying to suck the breasts of the dead mother which further provides an angry and somber mood from the image. Thus, it depicted a theme of suffering due to the all-round persons indicated in the image that was each facing pain regardless of their gender and age.

Further, the paint is different from the rest in conflict paints as it does not include the picture of a hero thus taking a neutral approach in painting as it does not glorify any part of the nation in the event. In most cases, paint work of war were sponsored by the nations that wanted to receive accolade due to the consequences of war and depict one’s nation as great at the moment (Eugène 42). The fact draws criticism from some quotas since a massacre must have its executioner and the victims painted alongside. The neo-classical creation was an excellent piece that conformed to the standards of the time based on the neo-classical school.     

Massacre at Chios by Eugene Delacroix

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso is a house hold name and one of the famous influential artists of the 20th century. The work represents a political statement created in reaction to the Nazi’s casual bombing act on the Basque town of Guernica in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. The paint depicts the tragedies of the war and the suffering it subjects people into thus giving the image a monumental status in reminding the population the atrocities, anti-war symbol, and eventually acting as an embodiment of peace (Fisch and Picasso 12).

The piece of art is 3.5 meters tall and 7.8 meters wide completed on oil and canvas style of paint. The works was completed through proper color choice in monochromatic palette of gray, white and black colors. The alternation of the black and white colors across the surface of the paint develops dramatic intensity and a visual energy of the movement. The composition of the image appears chaotic and confusing due to the violent action as images intersect and overlap making it difficult to determine the boundary of an image (Chipp and Picasso 42). The artist uses the image of a bull and a horse that depict different messages in the role play as the rampaging bull represents major destruction with the horse representing the locals. Guernica acts as an important political painting that has remained relevant as a symbol of protest and peace that reminds of the nightmare at Basque town.

Comparison of the Paint Works

The three creations represent the theme of conflict in their depictions in the images. In all the cases, there are images of war illustrating the theme of destruction that acted as a reminder to people of the atrocities committed. In the first case, the Sabine women were in the process of being rescued thus demonstrating the presence of war that brought about the struggle.

 The second image represents a massacre where individuals were killed leaving devastating scenario such as that of the child sucking a dead mother’s breast in communicating the dark side of the war. The third one illustrates a reminder of the destruction that occurred in reminding people of the war and thus the need for peace. The accolades the images received represents the sign of conflict that existed at the different times altogether.   

The paintings represent a neoclassicism approach towards paint which refers to the art produce later but drawing inspiration from antiquity. The three images qualify to be in the category since their works represents the occurrence of the past that are depicted in the paint and remind individuals of the atrocities (Coltman 7). The inspiration o the conflict and the need to remind and promote peace informs the creation of the images. The theme of conflict represented by the acts of war in the separate cases is thus a direct works belonging to the neoclassical age (Kallendorf 52). All the paintworks can be used in history as a reminder of the pain undergone by individuals and thus promote peace through reminding the populations on the dangers of wars. As such, the three creations remain similar in the way their articulate their concerns and passing the respective messages to the populations.  

Chipp, Herschel B., and Pablo Picasso. Picasso's Guernica: history, transformations, meanings. University of California Press, 1988.

Coltman, Viccy. Fabricating the antique: neoclassicism in Britain, 1760-1800. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Eugène Delacroix. Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863): paintings, drawings, and prints from North American collections. Metropolitan museum of art, 1991.

Fisch, Eberhard, and Pablo Picasso. Guernica by Picasso: a study of the picture and its context. Bucknell University Press, 1988.

Fraser, Elisabeth Ann. Delacroix, art and patrimony in post-revolutionary France. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Kallendorf, Craig W., ed. A companion to the classical tradition. Vol. 51. John Wiley & Sons, 2010.

Lajer?Burcharth, Ewa. "David's Sabine Women: Body, Gender and Republican Culture under the Directory." Art History 14.3 (1991): 397-430.

Mayer, Tamar. "Drawing the Corporeal: Balance and Mirror Reversal in Jacques-Louis David's Oath of Horatii." Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 46.1 (2017): 229-260.

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