Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/13/2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Art History

First Advisor

Johnson, Dorothy

First Committee Member

Longfellow, Brenda

Second Committee Member

Scott, John B.

Third Committee Member

Rorex, Robert

Fourth Committee Member

Roy, Christopher

Fifth Committee Member

Sessions, Jennifer


Attempting to make sense of the oeuvre of Prud’hon in 1876, Edmond de Goncourt in his Catalogue Raisonné de Prud’hon contrasts Prud’hon’s paintings with the predominant art of David and his students. He describes Prud’hon as an isolated romantic artist, full of elegance, going against the virile masculine academic traditions of his day. Goncourt sees in Prud’hon the epitome of an erotic classicism, which he considers unique for his time. I seek to demonstrate that Prud’hon’s embrace of classicism reflects and propels a variety of contexts from the literary, aesthetic, philosophical, and cultural developments of his time.

The significance of poignant upheaval and the political change from the ancien regime through the Revolution and the Empire had a considerable impact on the various moments examined in my dissertation. I use selected examples from his works and those of his contemporaries to serve as case studies to reveal key moments in the development of his oeuvre.

Prud’hon’s oeuvre is vast, but my dissertation will highlight case studies from 1770-1815. I have analyzed central concepts of this period’s aesthetic and philosophical ideals, especially the philosophic treatises by French Enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau and Diderot, and by classicists like Winckelmann and Quatremère de Quincy. Prud’hon’s transformations were also clearly impacted by the historical reality of the French Revolution and Empire.

Public Abstract

In my dissertation, I seek to demonstrate that Pierre-Paul Prud’hon’s embrace of Romantic Classicism situates his stylistic choices and subject matter in the contexts of the artistic, literary, aesthetic, philosophical, and cultural developments of Revolutionary France. I challenge the notion of Prud’hon as an isolated Romantic artist, full of elegance, going against the virile masculine academic traditions of his day. Rather, Prud’hon’s graceful classicism was a major direction in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century painting, decorative arts, and sculpture, and one that has been either largely ignored or misunderstood by art historians. My study will also reposition Prud’hon’s aesthetics vis- à-vis his contemporaries, particularly the other prominent artists from the school of Jacques-Louis David, whose works are often placed in opposition to Prud’hon’s art.

The significant political changes from the Ancien Régime through the Revolution and Empire had a considerable impact on the various moments examined in my study. The Revolutionary period is particularly understudied in most projects on Prud’hon, so my research hopes to revitalize an examination between revolutions and their artistic messages. My dissertation will reconsider Prud’hon’s aesthetics and allegorical subject matter as related to the Revolutionary and Imperial’s effect on art and power. The ultimate intersection of art and power during the Empire is explored in the relationship between the Empress Josephine and Prud’hon, in an analysis of her patronage. My dissertation illuminates the Prud’hon’s context to present a more nuanced understanding of his relationship to the cultural phenomena from 1784 to 1808.


gracieux, Neoclassic Art, Prud'hon, Romantic Art


xvi, 294 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 274-294).


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Copyright © 2017 Michael Traver Ridlen