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A Palette of Perspectives with Mr Mihai: Historical Propaganda in Art

Today I am here with one of the most well-loved and respected teachers of this school, whom I have gained a very nice interview with. I will ask him, like in my previous editions, to interpret three paintings. The teacher that is featured today is… you guessed it, Mr Mihai, our geography teacher! 

Let’s see what he says about ‘Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801-1805) by Jacques Louis Davide. 

Interviewer(me): ‘Hi Mr! Today we’ll kick it off with Jacques Louis-Davide’s, ‘Napoleon Crossing the Alps.’ So what do you think of it, since it’s a very biased representation of Napoleon?’

Mr Mihai: “It’s a glorification of his accomplishments; a work of propaganda. It’s for his followers to enhance the vision of him being the next Hanno or Hannibal or even Caesar. Everybody was in the habit of having paintings of them looking heroic or glorifying their victories. This made sure that they were gloriously engrained in eternity.”

Interviewer: ‘You think that it was historical Photoshop?’ 

Mr Mihai:“Ah definitely! Not only that, it was an enhancement. No one would do stunts like this with a horse, the horses were tamed, and also the generals usually stayed behind at the tail of the army, not like you see today in movies where they charge with a sword and slash everyone. No, paintings like this also had a beautiful light and this goes back to Ancient Egypt, when pharaohs were depicted as powerful hunters and warriors on the battlefields, with their chariots looking pristine, full of life and vitality and almighty.” 

Onto the second painting, La Princesse de Broglie (1853) - Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.

Interviewer: ‘So, now we’ve got the painting ‘La Princesse de Broglie’ by Jean Ingres… What do you think of it and the context behind it?’ 

Mr Mihai: “Paintings like this were very common in that era, especially since marriages were arranged. This was especially important so that suitable husbands could be found. Paintings of girls that were ‘on the market’ for arranged marriages were sent to potential customers, a.k.a future husbands, and according to those paintings it would be decided whether it’s a good match or not(interviewer’s note: historical Tinder). Wealth was more important, but the painting was a well-received bonus. This created a society where paintings of themselves were in high demand, creating a favourable job market for painters. This was the social media of the time.” 

Interviewer: ‘Exactly! Would you think that there’s a story behind this specific painting? A tragic one maybe?’ 

Mr Mihai: “I’m certain that there’s a story. Unfortunately, the tragedy back then was that love was not in the equation. It was an exception when you got to meet someone. When you met someone everything was prearranged, your entire life was predetermined… what, when, how, where, with whom? And paintings were part of this predetermination of life. At certain ages, you had to have different paintings in different profiles, and different clothes, obviously not approved by you, but for society to see you in a certain image. In that painting, for example, you can see the reflection of that particular age’s dress code, how women should look and how the painting should be taken, like the medium or format, including her very stiff position. God forbid they placed her in a different position!” 

Interviewer: ‘Yes! I know, because if you look back then the wealthy ladies were so rigid and icy but the lower-class ones were so dynamic, like they’d move around and stretch and would essentially be portrayed as human beings while the rich were portrayed as porcelain dolls.’

Mr Mihai: “Stole the words right out of my mouth!” 

Here comes the last painting, ‘Die Todesstunde’ (1900) by Alfred Kubin. 

Interviewer: "So, lastly, we’ve got the painting ‘Die Todesstunde’’ by Kubin. What do you think of it and the context behind it? Do you think it’s got to do anything with him being Austrian and living among Nazis in WWII? Maybe with his tragic love story with the dead girl(Kubin was deeply in love with a dead girl at one point; well her imaginary version)? Maybe his tormented child? Being deemed demonic by the literal Nazis? Do you think it represents Kubin?Mr Mihai: “Yes… it makes you guess, wonder, and think a lot. It’s not at all simple to describe it or have two people have the same interpretation of it. Each person, depending on the point of view, must have a different perspective on it, which reflects not only the creation of a representation of one forced into the real world but also echoes Kubin’s own perspective of the scenery of what was happening(Interviewer’s note: This painting was way before WWII, but even so, there was obviously a lot of suffering around Kubin so the point still stands). Obviously, his origin influenced his art, since no matter what you’ll always be a little bit biased, and subjective to what you know. How do you become the person you are, if not from your environment? Suffering is seen, and suffering echoes in the painting.”

Interviewer: ‘Thank you so much for the interview!’

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