From Publishers Weekly
No artist was more closely tied to the French Revolution than the neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David. Twice imprisoned for his political activities during the Terror, David left a visual record of the changes sweeping the French art world, which included a new professional autonomy for the artist and new studio practices, and of the changes in gender relations in late-18th-century France, such as new divorce laws and new scientific approaches to the female body. Relying upon the psychoanalytic studies of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, Harvard professor Lajer-Burcharth looks at the pleasure-seeking upper echelons of French society through David's work. Lajer-Burcharth has a knack for helping the reader to visualize a painting (she compares a shadow behind one of David's figures to "a black stain leaking from a body"), and her discussion of how David used history painting to free himself from prison is intriguing. Unfortunately, her dense jargon hampers what could have been an exciting text in the vein of Katherine Fischer Taylor's In the Theater of Criminal Justice, an earlier study of post-Revolutionary France that used a narrow focus to dramatize major cultural shifts. 11 color plates not seen by PW; 165 b&w illus. (Oct.)
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From Library Journal
Focusing on the period after the fall of Robespierre, Lajer-Burcharth (humanities, Harvard) reframes David's art in relation to gender tensions within French society at the time and within the artist's vision of himself. The methodologies of gender studies and semiotics are the focus of her argument, which sacrifices traditional art historical analysis. The author demonstrates how revolutionary dress and the stresses and losses it implied were reflected in the instability of David's art and his place as a revolutionary artist in French society. While trying to offer a new perspective on David and on visual representation during this period of French history, Lajer-Burcharth often looses her focus by cloaking David and his art in literary theory and opaque jargon. Recommended only for art libraries that support graduate programs in art history. While concentrating on the same time period, Roberts examines David and Jean-Louis Prieur, the most popular illustrator of the period, within a post-Marxist framework. Roberts first defines the Revolution in the theoretical terms of J?rgen Habermas's bourgeois public sphere, which is separate from the political sphere of the state. He also discusses Roger Chartier's idea of the division of the educated elite from the masses during the French Revolution. With these theoretical underpinnings, the author examines Prieur and David, who in their art reflected the concerns of both the plebeian "peuple" and the educated "public" of the salons. A detailed historical account of the key moments of the Revolution is included and related to the works of both men. This scholarly study is recommended only for libraries that support graduate programs in art or French history.
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-Sandra Rothenberg, Framingham State Coll. Lib., MA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.