Archeology and Greek Revival imagination in the mid-19th centurye century: Ingres, Papéty and Gérôme

Archeology and Greek Revival imagination in the mid-19th century<sup>e</sup> century: Ingres, Papéty and Gérôme

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Home ›Studies› Archeology and neo-Greek imagination in the mid-19th centurye century: Ingres, Papéty and Gérôme

  • Antiochus disease or Antiochus and Stratonice

    INGRES Jean-Auguste Dominique (1780 - 1867)

  • Phryne in front of the Areopagus

    GEROME Jean-Léon (1824 - 1904)

  • Greek women at the fountain

    PAPETY Dominique (1815 - 1849)

Antiochus disease or Antiochus and Stratonice

© RMN-Grand Palais (Domaine de Chantilly) / Harry Bréjat

To close

Title: Phryne in front of the Areopagus

Author : GEROME Jean-Léon (1824 - 1904)

Dimensions: Height 80 cm - Width 128 cm

Storage place: Kunsthalle website

Contact copyright: BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Elke Walford

Picture reference: 04-503263 / 1910

© BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Elke Walford

Greek women at the fountain

© RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Franck Raux

Publication date: January 2019

CNRS Researcher Center for Research on Arts and Language

Historical context

Neoclassical tradition and the Greek Revival movement

If it continues to nourish history painting as well as genre painting, the reference to Greek Antiquity evolved during the 1840s thanks to young painters grouped under the name of “neo-Greek”, who mixed history painting and genre painting by relaxing academic barriers. The Marseille painter Dominique Papéty (1815-1849), Prix de Rome in 1836, was likewise influenced by Ingres, whom he met during his stay at the Villa Medici in Rome (1836-1841), before surrendering in Greece twice in 1845 and in 1847: Greek women at the fountain (1849), of which there are two versions, keep the memory of his stay and his archaeological research.

Image Analysis

Representation of Greece, between historical painting and genre scene

Antiochus Disease of Ingres represents an episode in ancient history that took place at the beginning of the IIIe century before our era: the incestuous passion of Antiochus, son of King Seleucus, for his stepmother Stratonice, is discovered by the doctor Erasistratus while the young man is bedridden. David had already made it the subject of a painting in 1774, while the composer Méhul had composed an opera on this highly dramatic subject, Stratonice (1792), which Ingres particularly appreciated. Imagining a Hellenized Syria, Ingres fancifully recreates a motley Eastern Antiquity, which is pictorially reflected in the vivid colors of the clothing, the ornamental richness of the decor and the abundance of familiar objects imitated from Greco-Roman models. In accordance with the principles of the neoclassical school, Ingres chooses the most pathetic moment in history, which he stages by reinforcing the intensity by the contrast between shadow and light as well as by the gestures of the characters. . Antiochus writhes in pain, in the throes of forbidden passion; Seleucos is collapsed, his body sags, his face is buried in the sheets of his son's bed; Erasistratus understood the origin of the prince's illness and expressed his dread in a dramatic gesture. Turning away from this pathetic scene, Stratonice, in a pose reminiscent of the modest statues of Aphrodite from the Hellenistic period, offers himself as an object of desire while avoiding the violence of feelings, in an attitude marked by duplicity whose representation of the sphinx on a mosaic floor is the symbol.

Gérôme learned the lesson of Ingres when he painted in 1861 Phryne in front of the Areopagus. A courtesan famous for her beauty, Phrynè was the mistress of the orator Hyperides who, to convince the judges of the innocence of the young woman accused of impiety, abruptly unveiled her body. Gérôme uses easy effects to reinforce the theatricality of this scene: in addition to the contrasts between hot and cold colors, a violent light is thrown on the young woman, standing on a stone platform. The sensuality of this body, while the face remains hidden in a gesture that can express shame, evokes the Venus anadyomene Ingres. The erotic whiteness of Phrynè contrasts with the tanned male bodies, seated in the semi-darkness and dressed in a red tunic, a symbol of desire, while the lustful and caricatural faces of the judges express the most diverse feelings and passions. Adept at archaeological reconstruction, Gérôme places the scene in a setting reproducing an Etruscan tomb from Tarquinia discovered in the 18th century.e century, and he adds antique objects treated with realism, such as the archaic statue of Athena promachos on the small altar in the center of the assembly and the bronze tripod, inspired by a Pompeian model. But this reconstruction is also the product of a Greek imagination that does not respect history, since the Areopagus sat in Athens in the open air on a hill near the Acropolis.

Greek women at the fountain de Papéty is an evocation of a familiar Greece characteristic of the Greek Revival style. The archaeological inspiration of this ancient outdoor scene is reflected on the pictorial level by the frank light which illuminates the whiteness of the clothes and the architecture, by the perspective which opens towards an azure sea and reveals massive buildings reminiscent of the Acropolis, by the architectural framework of Dorian style, by the inscription in Greek letters on the architrave. The simplicity of the palette (ochres, reds, whites) is reminiscent of ceramics. The vases worn by young women are copied from ancient models of hydria, intended to collect water, and oenochoe, for wine. The white peplos with which they are dressed, with wide and heavy folds, give an archaic aspect to their poses: Papéty had visited the Acropolis in 1845 and he was inspired by the caryatids of the Erechteion to represent the woman in the center of the painting. Another characteristic feature of the Greek Revival style is the union of realistic ethnographic observation and the idealized ancient model: the Greeks painted by Papéty evoke classical statuary as much by their silhouette, their aquiline profile, the proportions of their limbs and the frontality of the body. central female figure, than the women of contemporary Greece with their tanned skin and black hair.


A neopagan vision for the future

In the 1840s, the multiplication of trips to Greece, the creation of the French School of Athens in 1846, which welcomes archaeologists, artists and historians, the vogue for archaeological staging in the theater, the development of the school " néopaïenne ”in literature, which Baudelaire evokes in 1848, attest a revival of Greek Antiquity which touches also the painting. A leading figure in academic painting, Ingres fostered this taste for Greek Antiquity while remaining attached to the tradition of David through the rigor of the composition. Keeping a distance from Ingres while being indebted to him, the Greek Revival movement favors the picturesque scene, a Greece of Palatine Anthology and idyll, far from the mythological and historical scenes treated by neoclassical painters. Papéty, among others, contributes to this new vision of a simple, everyday and living Greece. The hieratic nature of the stage and the rejection of any theatricality of Greek women at the fountain break with the conventions of genre painting and history painting. This is not the case with Gérôme, whose "grand spectacle" painting emphasizes archaeological truth and picturesque detail, but also fanciful interpretations of texts and images. The success of its Phryne, reproduced over and over again in the following decades, will not exclude critics from supporters of modern painting, who will reject a neo-Greek aesthetic ultimately assimilated to academicism.

  • neo-Greek
  • history painting
  • antiquity
  • Acadamy of Arts
  • Greece
  • Baudelaire (Charles)
  • David (Jacques-Louis)
  • theater


POMARÈDE Vincent, GUÉGAN Stéphane, PRAT Louis-Antoine, BERTIN Éric (dir.), Ingres (1780-1867), Paris, Gallimard / Musée du Louvre, 2006.

PELTRE Christine, The trip to Greece: a workshop in the Mediterranean, Paris, Citadelles and Mazenod, 2011.

DES CARS Laurence, FONT-REAULX Dominique de, PAPET Édouard (dir.), Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904): history on show, Paris, Orsay Museum, 2010.

To cite this article

Christophe CORBIER, “Archeology and the neo-Greek imagination in the mid-19the century: Ingres, Papéty and Gérôme »

Video: Best Documentary 2016. Ancient Greece civilization. BBC Documentary. History Documentary 2016