What Makes Historical Art Striking?

Oil Painting – The Three Glorious Days, Paris The July Revolution

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix

This is a painting from the 1830 Revolution in Paris. Although we have seen many, many paintings like this throughout history, these images still hold a lot of power in different cultures around the world today. This is an oil painting by Eugene Delacroix depicting the aftermath of a French war also known as the July Revolution. There is a woman standing over several dead bodies while holding the France flag. We see others haling her after their victory. Although this is a depiction of war, I have found it striking for other reasons.

This piece of art uses the influence of romanticism and politics to create a captivating rhetoric. The importance of placement is crucial in creating a striking work of art. This painting does just that. Instead of placing the woman in the corner, it shows her right in the middle and higher than the rest of the people in the image. When objects are centered or higher in images, it shows that the artist wants you to know how important that object is. Delacroix wants your attention to immediately be drawn to this woman. Another thing that the artist played with is color. The whole painting seems a bit moody and melancholy. The artist wanted the viewer to feel the somber tone of a war’s aftermath. It would be confusing if there were a bunch of dead people on the ground, yet there were happy colorful trees and animals all around. Delacroix matched the tone of the painting with this dark time of war and the result of a tireless pursuit. However, he did play with color when it came to the feeling of hope. We see a brightness in the sky surrounding the french men and woman. That reveals the idea of there being a light at the end of the tunnel. It shows that now that the war is won, it is time for recovery. It is meant to be inspirational, like romanticism teaches. If one sees this image with no context, they will most likely understand that this is the artist’s intention. Most of the light in the image is the light surrounding the woman. This is what makes it so striking. She is even wearing a lighter color than all of the men in the image which shows she is different, but it also gives a sense of purity and true power. The painting is titled Liberty Leading the People, and she is the symbol of liberty in this painting. She is holding the flag with honor and dignity. The men are looking up to her as if they worship her. There is also sense and sensuality in romanticism, and that is shown with the woman as well. Of course it is understood that women are the givers of life and should therefore hold importance. So in that sense, it makes sense that she is being worshipped. It is also noticeable that her dress has fallen off of her shoulder and her breasts are revealed, creating a  more sensual theme and sort of putting a spell on the men. It creates the conversation of the sexualization of women which is visually rhetorical within itself. The artist uses symbolism in the flag, the woman, and the light all for the purpose of evoking particular emotions. Foss states, “these visual objects are different in significant ways from discursive symbols. They focus on the particular qualities of visual rhetoric to develop explanations of how visual symbols operate in an effort to develop rhetorical theory from visual symbols  to insure that it takes into account the dimensions of  visual forms of rhetoric.” Delacroix makes an explanation of why things are the way that they are without having to actually say anything. The painting speaks for itself which is one again, visually rhetorical.