Paul Chenavard
Divina Tragedia

Divina Tragedia
Paul Chenavard (1807-1895)
Divina Tragedia
Between 1865 and 1869
Huile sur toile
H. 400 ; L. 550 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski


Divina Tragedia (detail)
Divina Tragedia (detail)
Divina Tragedia (detail)
Divina Tragedia (detail)

Divina Tragedia


Immediately after the 1848 Revolution, the Director of Fine Arts, Charles Blanc, commissioned a decoration from Paul Chenavard for the Pantheon in Paris, which the new government wished to erect as a "temple of humanity". The artist planned a mosaic as the main feature, presenting an "impartial résumé of all the religious traditions".
But in December 1851, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte gave the Pantheon back to the Catholic Church, and Chenavard's project was abandoned. Nevertheless, for the 1869 Salon, Chenevard went back to the idea of illustrating the history of religion with Divina Tragedia, in counterpoint to Dante Alighieri's work: The Divine Comedy. This painting was accompanied in the Salon booklet by a long commentary that started: "As the ancient religions came to a close and with the accession of the Christian Trinity into Heaven, Death, helped by the Angel of Justice and the Spirit, struck down those gods doomed to perish".

The painting was met with incomprehension from both critics and the public alike. It was considered to be too complex, overloaded with references and ideas that the painter wanted to express. In Philosophical art, Baudelaire explained in a particularly virulent way, how Chenavard's art could provoke such a rejection. "Chenavard's brain is fog-ridden, with vapours and soot [...]. In this brain, things are only reflected [...] through a mist. Chenavard is not a painter, he scorns what we understand as painting". What Baudelaire was condemning was a painting " that claimed to replace the book [...] in order to teach history, morals and philosophy".
The painting was nevertheless purchased by the State for the Musée du Luxembourg. Divina Tragedia was only exhibited there for a short time, and was only rediscovered during Le musée du Luxemboug in 1974 exhibition… in 1974.


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