Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
In recent decades, the art and life of Jacques-Louis David have sparked a renewed surge of interest in the academic community. It is startling, however, that the often prevalent and imposing elements of architecture found in David's paintings have received little scholarly attention. This study fills a lacuna in David studies by providing a new perspective on his passionate engagement with architecture and its impact on his art. I begin by demonstrating that, following his trips to Rome early in his career, architecture became central to many of the artist's most celebrated compositions. Focusing chronologically on an approximately thirty-year period of the artist's career, I explore key paintings by David that serve as principal examples of the emphasis he placed on architecture and its ability to reaffirm, complement, intensify, and contribute layers of meaning to the central themes of his paintings. Throughout the dissertation, I identify principal architectural elements contained within these works and seek to determine their significance.
David's engagement with architecture began at a young age. He was born into a family of architects and throughout his adolescence was surrounded by some of the most important thinkers, artists, and architects of the eighteenth-century. This unique upbringing and inclusion within Paris's elite cultural milieu had a tremendous impact on how David would come to understand architecture as an aesthetic vehicle capable of enhancing his works with added narrative and metaphorical meanings. The dissertation takes as its starting point an investigation into David's period as a pensionnaire at the French Academy in Rome where he became profoundly inspired by the Antique. David recorded the impact of the Roman experience on his artistic development within the pages of a dozen albums, which contain a vast number of drawings depicting the Italian landscape, ancient buildings and monuments, and antique sculpture. The Roman albums reveal the importance David placed on architecture during this period and mark the beginning of the transformative effect the medium would have on his subsequent work.
David's obsession with the art and architecture of ancient Rome revealed in his Roman albums, for example, combined with his fascination for the popular vedute genre exemplified in compositions by Robert, Panini, and Piranesi, inspired him to reconsider how architecture could be used in new and significant ways in representations of historical subjects. This study investigates the multiple sources of architectural inspiration that served David throughout his career and inspired him to create a powerful architectural language. Comparisons between painting and architecture, including representations of architecture in painting, are fully explored for in the art of David, painting and architecture are not dichotomous. Rather, the two mediums are inextricably linked and together can be understood to embody the thoughts, pursuits, and passions of an epoch.
Copyright 2010 Heidi E. Kraus
Kraus, Heidi Elizabeth. "David, architecture, and the dichotomy of art." dissertation, University of Iowa, 2010.