Francois Gerard Psyche Receiving the First Kiss of Love
As the era of Napoleon dawned so too did the Neoclassical style reach it's zenith in Revolutionary France, cultivating an aestheticism of beauty that was already evident in Francois Gérard's Psyche Receiving the First Kiss of Love, which was first shown in the Paris Salon of 1798. The artist's intention was to take to the levels of perfection the handling of physical beauty, line, composition, and colour. A painter of historical paintings and elegant portraits, Gérard became known for his portraits of the imperial family, as commissioned by Napoleon. Following the fall of the Emperor, Gérard managed to adapt his style to please the kings Louis XVIII and Charles X during the Restoration of the monarchy, as well as appealing to overseas buyers with his subtle blend of exotic allure and classical thinking.
This mythological, literary and philosophical vision is both a love story and a metaphysical allegory. First found in the writings of Roman poet Apuleius, Psyche was a young princess whose beauty had excited the jealousy of Venus. The angry goddess sent her son Cupid to pierce Psyche with his arrows to make her the victim of an unfortunate passion. But Cupid turned his arrows against himself and fell in love. The scene symbolizes the neo-Platonic theme of the union of the human soul and divine love. It translates as chaste the voluptuous allegory in which the Greeks expressed the raw emotions of the soul. Sensual and sentient, the nudity of the character prefigures the emotional charge of Romanticist painting, and was a clear influence for Ingres' first version of Oedipus and the Sphinx, dating from 1808. Ingres felt that Receiving the First Kiss of Love was one of the finest of the French School and became an essential component in bridging the gap between Neoclassicalism and Romanticism.
The choice of topic is the typical of the period, as Gérard takes the classical myth and in turn illustrates his own contemporary society's return to what they imagined to be the virtue and simplicity of the ancient world. It is a composite image, a subtle blend of sensuality and coldness. Stark and humble, the forms of the body and the porcelain pink of the flesh seems to deftly defy the demands asked of artists such as Gérard, demonstrating that even in the most populist images can be found the seeds of innovation.
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