National Heroes

One way for painters to represent the national past was by means of its heroes and heroines. In England, the National Portrait Gallery was founded for this purpose in 1856. Certain rulers became national symbols in the nineteenth century if not before. In Britain, one thinks of King Alfred, already represented by Benjamin West in 1779 as a kind of secular saint dividing his loaf with a pilgrim, on the model of St Martin dividing his cloak with a beggar. In Spain, there was Queen Isabel the Catholic (The Testament of Queen Isabel by Eduardo Rosales, 1863); in Prussia, Frederick the Great, painted several times by Menzel; in France, Henri IV (between 1804 and 1835, 122 paintings of Henri IV were exhibited in the Salons); and in Sweden, the elegiac paintings of two dead kings, Carl Gustaf Hellquist’s Gustavus Adolphus and Gustaf Cederstrom’s Charles XII, both from the age when Sweden was a great power (the so-called stormaktstiden).

National—and imperial—glory was associated with successful soldiers, sailors and adventurers. In Spain, Hernan Cortes was painted by Francisco Sanz y Cabot and by Jose Uria. In France, Napoleon was celebrated in paint (from Antoine-Lois Gros, Bonaparte at the Pont d’Arcole, 1801, to Ernest Meissonier in the 1860s and 1870s) and also Marshal Ney, whose execution in 1815 was represented by Jean-Leon Gerome. In Britain, the death of Nelson at Trafalgar was painted by Benjamin West, Arthur Devis and Daniel Maclise. In the Netherlands, Nicolaas Pieneman painted The Death of Admiral de Ruyter (1834) and the submission of the Javanese prince Diponegoro to the Dutch general Hendrik de Kock.

Religious leaders might also symbolize the nation. The Germans had Martin Luther, whose appearance at the Reichstag in Worms was represented by Hermann Pludemann (1864), Paul Thumann (1872), Anton von Werner (1877) and Hermann Wislicenus (1880). The French had Jeanne d’Arc, painted by both Delaroche (1824) and Ingres (1854). The Czechs had Jan Hus, whose condemnation as a heretic was painted by Vaclav Brozik (1883). The English had John Wycliffe (Ford Madox Brown, The Trial of Wycliffe, 1893) and the Protestant martyrs (George Hayter, The Martyrdom of Latimer and Ridley, 1855). The Scots had the Protestant preacher John Knox (painted by David Wilkie, 1832), while the Poles had the Catholic preacher Piotr Skarga (by Jan Matejko, 1864).

The cultural achievements of different nations were symbolized by paintings of their writers, scientists and artists: Spain by Cervantes, for instance, Germany by Goethe, England by Hogarth, Reynolds and Chaucer (Ford Madox Brown, Chaucer at the Court of Edward III, 1868), and Italy by Dante and Galileo, Raphael and Titian. The choice of great painters of the past may have been an attempt to persuade the public of the importance of art, but the majority of these heroes were chosen because they were what Albert Boime has called “national icons” (Boime, 1998).

The many statues erected in streets and squares in the nineteenth century tell a similar story. They include national icons such as Nelson in London (dwarfing Wellington and Shakespeare), Goethe in Weimar and Frankfurt, Cervantes in Madrid, Walter Scott in Edinburgh, Jeanne d’Arc and Diderot in Paris, Carl Linnaeus and the historian Eric Gustaf Geijer in Uppsala, the poet Sandor Petofi in Budapest, Alexander Pushkin in both Moscow and St Petersburg and his Polish equivalent Adam Mickiewicz in both Warsaw and Cracow.

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