tv Witness LINKTV April 30, 2012 8:00pm-8:30pm PDT
"at first, the doctors thought it was sciatica, "and then they admitted it was gangrene. "the old man suffered greatly those last days, "and then, on the 31st of august 1715, "the clergy gathered around him, "and they began, timidly, to chant the ave maria. "all through the night, they carried on chanting. "then, at 8:15 in the morning "in the royal bed in the great chamber "in the center of the palace, "louis xiv, the sun king, died, like every man." so wrote a contemporary diarist. it's often said that when louis died, an age died with him. the age of absolute monarchs, the age of which versailles is a symbol, was drawing to an end. things would never be the same. for louis, versailles was intended first to be a garden, and he imagined that garden as an outdoor palace
built next to the one constructed in stone, and the one could not be understood without the other. in the garden, louis exercised the same despotism over nature that he did indoors over his court. these two tyrannies changed, softened even, over the long years of the reign. the most famous formal garden in europe, with its rigorous geometries of terraces and staircases, its regular parterre, gave way gradually to a greater informality of trees and fields, not merely because it was so expensive to keep up, but because a new attitude to nature was developing-- more sentimental, intimate, romantic. the mood of this moment is captured in a painting done not long after louis' death-- antoine watteau's departure from the isle of cythera.
a group of courtiers prepares to leave the island of love. the painting signals the new attitude-- more informal, poetic, and often amorous. in this paradise of cythera, there are no restraints, and nature is free and unconstrained. it was a time in which the argument over nature, exemplified in the idea of the garden, was a serious debate. it was in england that this different attitude to nature arose. the informal, spontaneous, picturesque english garden was seen as an expression of english liberties. the geometric french garden was seen as a reflection of their authoritarian government. in the microcosm of the garden could be read beliefs about the world at large.
at stourhead, you can see, better than anywhere in europe, the way that the early 18th century attempted to create an art of landscape by shaping nature and putting into the landscape buildings created in past styles-- medieval, but especially classical. they believed that a landscape or a garden gives added pleasure if one can savor the effects of past time as one wanders around it, and that sensibility is characteristic of their period. the poet alexander pope said in the 1730s that this architecture or art derived from landscape painting, and compared it to a picture, and that's why we call it picturesque.
and so the combination of architecture and picturesque landscape became one of the characteristics of 18th-century aristocratic culture, and wealthy patrons sought architects who would design them country estates unparalleled anywhere in europe. this is syon house, seat of the dukes of northumberland. the 11th duke lives there. it isn't impressive from outside, but wait till you get in. robin middleton of columbia university, new york, has developed a highly original approach to the architecture of the 18th century. the first design for this floor was a simple checkerboard without these dynamic directional indicators, but all that was to change as the building took form. the interiors here are amongst the first works of a brilliant architect of the period--robert adam.
he wanted to design like a landscape gardener. he writes of the rise and the fall of the hills and dales, but especially of the movement between them. these effects he wanted to get when he put his masses together. these were notions of picturesque composition. he uses them outside and inside. when he uses his moldings and his patterns, he's modeling spaces, and he's trying to show you how to move through them. let me show you what i mean. well, you won't be surprised to learn that that door leads off to the duke's private apartments. the niche here is large, soft, intimate-- well, almost. at the other end of the hall, something different happens. a dynamic pattern on the ceiling and on the floor leads you into that alternative direction.
this niche is hard and strong and elevated. adam's contrived a change of levels here which takes you up the stairs into the great staterooms beyond. the first room beyond the hall is the vestibule, a dazzling room, a riot of color and gold, proper for the first anteroom of a first peer of the realm. 12 columns give order to this room. they were said to have been found in the bed of the tiber in rome. they're not just elements of ostentation. adam uses them to make an awkward room with oddly spaced window openings into a cube. that line of columns marks out a square. adam's used it to mark the new axis you take from this vestibule into the sequence of staterooms going off here. first, into the dining room.
it was the dining room. there's a screen of columns which give you a moment to pause before you're thrust by the moldings into the central space, and then you go on down the same axis into the first drawing room-- beautiful, fine room-- and from that, right through to the beginning of the long gallery, which connects the private apartments and the state apartments. this is the great connecting link in the house. while the english aristocracy chose to live in their great landscaped country houses, the french preferred the sophisticated atmosphere of the city. the court had moved from versailles to paris, where the aristocracy built themselves grand townhouses, like the hotel soubise of 1739. behind their plain facades were exquisitely decorated and furnished interiors
where they could entertain themselves oblivious to the momentous developments in french society beyond their walls. the decoration of these houses is known as rococo, a term which originally referred to the elaborate, encrusted ornament popular in french design at this time, which became associated with the art and taste of the pre-revolutionary world itself. one of the most celebrated rococo artists was francois boucher, court portraitist and painter of allegorical romances. boucher's works were designed simply to give pleasure, fitting objects of delectation for an aristocracy with so much time and money on their hands. but time was now running out. this is boucher's rape of europa.
in the literary and philosophical salons where they met, the middle-class intelligentsia opposed what they saw as a decadent order. they called for a return to universal values based on nature and reason. they held that art should not be for art's sake alone, but should have a moral and educative content. this viewpoint, which heralded the role art would play in the revolution, was shared by great french thinkers of the time-- voltaire, who spent his life opposing the tyranny of church and state. rousseau, who believed nature to be the source of all good. for him, society was the reason man was born free, but everywhere is in chains.
didederot, who in his encyclopea attempted to scrutinize all natural phenomena in the light of reason. diderot's attack on boucher's provocative odalisque reads like a modern attack on pornography. "today's moral decadence," he said, "has led step by step "to the corruption of taste, of color, of composition, "of character, of expression. "this man has no taste. he takes up his brush only to show bottoms and breasts." for diderot, artists like greuze pointed the way forward to a new art, new taste, new morality. his pictures are part of the growth of a new climate in france, part of those almost imperceptible changes in history of which great events like the french revolution are the outcome. with greuze and, here, chardin, we detect a new theme-- that ordinary people have a heroism, that virtue and strength reside in them,
not in kings and nobles. indeed, in chardin's world of middle-class people are the men and women who would attempt to take power in the revolution half a century on. the age of reason would find its means of expression by returning to the source-- to classical greece. the art of the 18th century is often called neo-classicism, but we shouldn't understand that in the sense of a slavish imitation of classical models. the monuments of classical antiquity had inspired artists from the renaissance onwards. the appollo belevedere had been known to michelangelo and his contemporaries and disseminated in casts throughout europe from versailles to the soane museum. this is an 18th-century copy. but greece itself had remained largely unknown. artists like poussin were depicting imaginary landscapes. and then during the 18th century,
the discoveries at herculaneum and pompeii, baalbek, and palmeira opened a new horizon on the ancient world. and that was the time that theorists like winckelmann and, slightly later, goethe, propounded their theory that the greek style, this noble simplicity, was the true style, was the perfection of art, that the greeks had known true liberty because of the light of reason, and that their art had attained its perfection because of liberty. the message for the 18th century, then, was clear-- that this was the art for free peoples, a vision of an ordered and harmonious universe governed by classical ideals of perfection and harmony. neo-classicism, then, perhaps it is, but better to call it the art of the age of reason. in the last half of the 18th century, these ideas grew more influential.
even architectural forms would be interpreted in terms of the search for rationality, as seen in one of the finest examples of the art of the age of reason--the palais royal. the palais royal is a comparatively quiet and sedate place today. once upon a time, this was the hub of paris. it was a great speculative venture put up to bolster the orleans family fortunes, and it worked. it was full of shops. if you wanted a book, ribbons, anything, you came here. it was full of cafes, too. everybody, in the evening, congregated here-- academicians, writers, artists. everybody came in from town-- travelers, soldiers on leave, and, of course, the girls came, too, not that that ever stopped the ministers coming at all, but that's not the real reason why we're here.
we're here to look at this world which represents the obsessions of architects for the previous 100 years. they've been trying to create order. order's staked out for you. you can see all these columns in even rhythm. you can calculate where you are. you're in a world you can understand. the column, which had for so long been used as a decorative element stuck onto walls, was made freestanding. not only freestanding to reveal its forms, but its structural form. it became a support again. it was shown off in this way. this honest demonstration seemed to give a new moral dimension to architecture. one of the first buildings in which this new honesty of expression had been attempted was the louvre's east front, dating back from the 17th century-- 1667 to 1674-- but it remained a model of architecture
throughout the 18th century. it was designed by charles perrault, the scientist. perrault made the outline of his building almost rectangular. the long facade is almost flat. so is the outline. there's no piling up, no modeling. the architectural emphasis is on the linking elements, the freestanding runs of columns. the building became known, not surprisingly, as the louvre colonnade. perrault was determined that his columns should not be decorative elements, but as, he thought, in ancient greek architecture, the supports of the building-- strong structural supports. he introduced engineering of a very high order into his design. the columns are threaded through with bars of iron, which are linked to crossbars in the ceiling and anchored into the walls behind. here is the initial idea that led to the development of reinforced concrete in the 20th century.
almost 100 years later, exactly these same ideas were taken up by another architect-- soufflot--when he was commissioned to build the grandest, the noblest church in all of europe-- sainte genevieve, called the pantheon today. actually, you can even see it from here. tradition and reason were also soufflot's concerns. he, too, used freestanding columns to mark out his space and also to do the actual work of supporting the vaults and dome. he wanted to combine the structural elegance of a greek temple with the lightness of a gothic church. here the classical rhythms appear in the nave and aisles, with their rows of corinthian columns. gothic is hinted at in the flying buttresses.
he used the same freestanding columns carrying lintels to create a rectangular geometry on the outside, too. this is called post-and-lintel construction. the church was a nightmare to build but is thought of as a masterpiece of french 18th-century architecture. everyone who could went to rome in the 18th century. it seemed to be in the center of the ancient world. it became a new center for art-lovers-- architects, artists, gentlemen and their hangers-on. soufflot went there as a companion of madame de pompadour's brother. soufflot went farther south. he went to naples to a place called pestum
where there were three surviving greek temples. he was virtually the first architect who'd seen a greek temple, let alone recorded it. giambattista piranesi was most upset by the idea that greek was the divine source of architecture. he wasn't roman. he was venetian. he'd come to rome at 19. he climbed over the ruins. he excavated and recorded the past in over 1,000 views, not only the past, but the present of rome, too. copper was very expensive. he put his wife's dowry into an investment into these great plates, so he was very worried. he thought the french might go to athens. although he had french friends amongst these critics and architects in rome, he attacked them.
he ridiculed greek architecture. but then, just before he died in 1778, he himself went south to pestum, and in 15 or 16 wonderful drawings, he conjured up the magic of greek architecture as never before. he showed that the column, that the french had thought of as a structural element which they wanted to express honestly, was really a piece of sculpture, a piece of beautiful sculpture. after that, with the discovery of pestum and greek architecture itself, the aesthetic vision of europe changed. so, as often in the history of western art, changes in ways of seeing coincide with and even anticipate social change. so it was in the build-up to the french revolution. the saturday night fever of revolution began in earnest when camille desmouls harangued an inflamed crowd in the palais royal,
calling for overthrow of the monarchy and establishment of a republic. there was rising unemployment, a growing sense of injustice, and a devastating failure of the harvest had led to a shortage of a main staple--bread. the american revolution demonstrated how a tyranny could be overthrown by the will of the people, and now those democratic ideals ran through the population like wildfire. from the moment the bastille fell in july 1789, artists were at the center of events like never before, and in the career of jacques louis david, art and politics have never been closer. david dominated french painting for 35 years, through the reign of louis xvi, the revolution, napoleon's empire, and the restoration of the bourbon kings. he had a talent for painting and survival. as the revolution approached, paintings demonstrating themes of allegiance to state
rather than to family began to abound. although it was painted five years before the revolution, david's oath of the horatii would become one of the great images of the time. the theme of the horatii is a sacrificial oath of allegiance to republican rome. it is taken by three brothers before departing for combat. these are men willing to die out of patriotic duty. supported by their father, the courage and resolve of the brothers is evident even in their taut and outstretched limbs. here men are seen as moral symbols of the highest virtues, while the women are relegated to sit home, weep, and wait. the mothers and sisters, wrapped in soft, pliant draperies, seem to melt into tender gestures of suffering.
david's great pictures show us how the classical tradition could be used, not for the academic or the picturesque, but as a model for political action. these are moral fables, dramas with their austere heroism, their sacrificial devotion to the ideal of the state. no wonder that some people blamed the cult of classical antiquity for helping bring the revolution about. nothing better demonstrates the connection between this art and the politics of the time than an event which occurred only months into the revolution when voltaire's play on the life of brutus was revived at the national theater. at the end, david's picture of brutus was enacted as a tableau vivant. when brutus cried, "gods, give us death, rather than slavery," the applause was so great that it was minutes before order was re-established.
"never," said an eyewitness, "was the illusion more complete." the spectators became so many romans. they believed they had participated in the action. the great themes of this tumultuous epoch come together in david's painting of the oath of the tennis court. this great declaration of the rights of man in june 1789 was the symbolic beginning of the revolution. "men are born free," the deputies swore, "and shall remain free and equal in rights." david himself was deeply committed to the revolution, a member of the national convention. he was chosen to paint it. for him, this was contemporary reportage, but the gestures belonged to those nerveless roman heroes-- the horatii. in the tennis court then, david showed the spectators had indeed become the actors, become new romans.
as a fellow deputy said, "to paint this moment, "we have chosen the painter of the horatii, this patriot whose genius anticipated the revolution." unfortunately, their high ideals were not destined to last long. [shouting in french] during those first radical years, david devoted his art to the new republic. one of his friends and heroes was jean-paul marat, the journalist. this friend of the people came to a violent end. he was murdered in his bathtub by his political enemy-- charlotte corday. the day after marat's death, a deputation appeared in the national convention to offer regrets on behalf of the people. one deputy made a speech which is recorded by a contemporary of david, the historian delescluze.
"what a crime is this. "a parricidal hand has robbed us "of the people's most determined defender, "a man who died for liberty. "we still look among you, expecting to see him here "among you, our representatives. "what a spectacle it was-- "this man in the moment of his death. "where are you, david? you have another picture to paint." and david spoke up, his voice choked with emotion, "yes, i will undertake it." david painted the picture in three months. the death of marat is a murder story, and we see all the clues to the murder-- the blood, the knife, the letter marat received from charlotte corday
just before she murdered him. it's a very realistic picture, strongly, movingly realistic, but it is more than that. it has an almost religious intensity, like a secular pieta, an icon to a martyr for the cause of freedom. in painting this, david created perhaps the greatest single image of the revolution. now, finally, the age of reason lost its nerve. soon after marat's death, david watched from a window in the place de la revolution while marie antoinette went to the guillotine. he left us a poignant and eloquent sketch. the murder of thousands followed in the purge known as the terror. the frailty of reason was tragically exposed and, as so often in history,
fear of worse disorder led even reasonable men like david to turn to a strong leader to solve their dilemma. the man they thought their savior was napoleon bonaparte. in 1815, in the aftermath of napoleon's defeat at waterloo, czar alexander of russia visited paris and saw the vendome column, crowned by its imperial statue of napoleon. "were i to be so highly elevated," he quipped, my head would surely spin with vertigo." even a czar could not imagine such dizzying heights of glory, "but," as he added,
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