cairo: flights into egypt

Sensationalism.The aesthetic of violence in the Society of the Spectacle. The birth of the agitated space and a relishing of absurd charismatic appeal. Art, like the society around it, became caught between the joy of freedom and the fear of chaos. The beginning of the modern condition brought about by the emergence of a bourgeois class and shifting of feudalism onto conquered colonies. For Girodet it wan an opportunity to posit the theory of infinity in art. To use myth to convey emotional reality and to fracture the ego-centric over control of classicism with elements of lunacy and madness; a corrupting of the classical vision in favor of romantic mad liberation. The devil in the details of democracy.

Martin Kramer:It depicts a moment of the battle when French troops had stormed the inner sanctum of the Azhar mosque. To the left is a French hussar, sword raised above his head, bearing down on the insurgents with a steely resolve. To the right are the insurgents, centered on the naked figure (identified by contemporary viewers as an “Arab”) whose sword is raised in defense. In his left arm, he grasps a wounded Mamluk in lavish garb; at his feet is a black man, with a short bloodied sword in one hand, and the pale severed head of a French hussar in the other. It’s a tumultuous work. As one art historian has written, “To be fully appreciated the Revolt must make you smile. Death and decapitation cannot override (or suppress) the picture’s sheer glee. The painting is absurd, and also inflated, bombastic, extreme. In the Revolt of Cairo, the logic of the world we live in is fantastically suspended.” (And Girodet, for all his care in detailing clothes and arms, played loose with the identity of the insurgents: the revolt was led by ulema, not Mamluk holdovers, and no Arab bedouin joined it.) ...Sure, there’s the customary dwelling on the homoeroticism of the painting–it can’t be missed, and Girodet reportedly had liaisons with Mamluks who found their way to Paris and who posed for him. Read More:

The idea was to discard the soul murdering propensity of classical sanity, and place it within a new context, the Madness and Civilization of Foucault, Adam Smith’s other “unseen hand” of the irrational and illogic role in shaping society. This meant a rejection of the ideals of inner and outer control. It was not a clean break with Jacque-Louis David, but an evolution where the inherent entitlement of the ego in classicism would be removed from the Academy and re-packaged to appeal to the emotions of the mass. In fact, Girodet probably reinforced the destructive potential of the ego establishing a kind of sanity of the insanity, a first step down the path to kitsch and rubbish culture. The romantic vision, the upredictability and capriciousness of attacks of madness could be deconstructed into the seemingly infinite madness of the unconscious. An overturning of the prevalence of common sense.

Flight into Egypt.---Joachim Beuckelaer ca. 1530, Antwerp, Belgium - ca. 1574, Antwerp, Belgium School: Flemish Read More:

…In what is by far his most imposing history painting, The Revolt in Cairo , Girodet demonstrates that even a modern historic event has the capacity to fire his quirky imagination. Commissioned in 1809 by Napoleon, through Vivant Denon, to decorate the galerie de Diane in the Tuileries Palace, The Revolt in Cairo reenacts a minor, but especially bloody episode of the Egyptian campaign: the 1798 uprising in Cairo of indigenous Mamelukes against their French occupants. The revolt was swiftly repressed, and it is the brutal crushing of the insurrection by French Revolutionary soldiers, rather than the uprising itself, that is the proper subject of Girodet’s painting. Girodet’s assigned military theme, however, posed an exceptional challenge: the 1798 revolt in Cairo was a poorly documented event with few eye witness accounts, and there were neither celebrated French officers, nor daring heroic feats associated with the incident. But as we shall see, Girodet managed to capitalize on what would have been a severe handicap for most of his contemporaries, and turn the limitations of the commission to his distinct advantage. Read More:

Antoine-Jean Gros. ---Egyptian dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim has put it this way: It was a jolt of the French Expedition back in 1798 that was the beginning of the Liberal Age, the Arab awakening after not decades, but centuries, of stagnation…. Egyptians resisted the French Expedition and finally got it out; Napoleon was expelled out of Egypt in less than three years, like you–probably Americans would be expelled out of Iraq–but the three years of the French Expedition were really the beginning of the so-called New Arab Renaissance. “I don’t mean to compare Bush to Napoleon,” Ibrahim has said, but “over the past 200 years, it seems that it is usually such external jolts that enable the seeds of change to materialize, for the pregnant to give birth.” Read More:

Due to its size, over five meters wide, Girodet’s Revolt is shown in the rotunda of the Louvre at the entrance to the exhibition. The painting has been cleaned to reveal Girodet’s remarkable gifts as a colorist. Indeed, the splendid uniforms of the French soldiers, and the exotic costumes of the Mamelukes provided Girodet with an unequaled opportunity to indulge his penchant for deep, saturated color and striking surface textures. In no other painting does Girodet’s fascination with contrasting colors of human skin receive such stunning and disturbing expression. The Revolt is an overwhelming assemblage of riveting, closely observed details, all precisely painted and polished to a brilliant mineral hardness. On the right side of the painting, to take only the most famous passage, the expiring bey, arrayed in layers of lavender-colored silks, woolen paisley shawls, and a great rose-colored, fur-lined robe, collapses on the arm of his fierce, naked Arab servant (fig.18). At the servant’s side, a red-turbaned, otherwise naked Moor raises a flashing, gold-embossed steel dagger with his right hand, and supports himself by wrapping his left arm around the extended bare thigh of the bey’s servant. In his left hand the Moor holds a grisly trophy, the beautiful, mask-like, severed head of a French officer. Read More:

---The Hosh Courtyard of the Coptic Patriarch, Cairo, by John Frederick Lewis; 1864--- Read More:

Next to the great Napoleonic battle paintings by Gros, Girodet’s Revolt seems curiously detached, un-heroic and unreal. Girodet’s scene is highly charged and intensely ferocious, but the fury, savagery and suffering of the frenzied confrontation have all been subjected to a process of aesthetic rarefaction and abstraction. On the left, a superbly outfitted hussar leaps into the scene like a prince in a French romantic ballet. Other figures are elegantly disposed or posturing, whether charging, recoiling, agonizing or dead. Girodet’s rhetoric of violent movement and gesture is idealized, but not baroque in tendency, and neither for that matter is his conception of pictorial space and structure. His crowded, chaotic composition is devoid of any rational geometric schema. The scene is drastically compressed from all sides and teems with fierce, intricately entangled soldiers and Mamelukes, who twist and turn, attack and slaughter one another in a series of narrow, receding corridors of space. Girodet’s compositional eccentricities call to mind those of roman battle relief sculptures and mannerist battle murals; and his Revolt does not look forward to either Géricault’s baroque compositions with their powerful, plunging, diagonal axis, or the sweeping synthetic visions of Delacroix’s orientalist paintings. Girodet’s Revolt is sui generis. He was commissioned by Napoleon to paint an essentially undocumented battle, one that was “without generals, without heroes, without destiny and without any historical consequences” (p. 308). But in the end, the commission turned out to be perfectly suited to Girodet’s special genius—it allowed him to give free reign to bo

is aberrant aesthetic instincts and his strange, troubling imagination.Read More:


Girodet, Grisgsby argues, subverted the very political purpose he was commissioned to serve:

Girodet prominently displays the ‘orientals’ and eclipses the French hussar’s face by a cast shadow. The painter thus deprives his primary French protagonist not only of highest rank–there is no general here–but also of individual celebrity. He is neither Murat nor Bonaparte but an anonymous French soldier and the picture refuses to grant him the stature of portraiture. He remains, moreover, despite his tightly fitting clothing, a flattened pattern of rotating limbs…. Boots, pants, jacket, cape, we dress him like a paper doll… In the Revolt of Cairo, the naked warrior, unlike the spinning hussar, is irresistably charismatic…. In Girodet’s painting of colonial warfare, it is the insurgents not the French colonizers who are aligned with the classical narratives of passion, loyalty, and courage so revered within the French tradition.

Pierre Narcisse Guerin.---Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) Pardoning the Rebels at Cairo, 23rd October 1798, 1806-08--- Read More:

So much for Edward Said. Even this officially-commissioned work, to commemorate a (short-lived) French victory, has the power to subvert. But to appreciate that, you need a sense of irony.

…The French occupation of Egypt seems to me especially relevant. That brief intervention ended in military failure, but as the Syrian Sadek al-Azm has written, it “made a clean sweep of all that had become irrelevant on our side of the Mediterranean–the traditional Mamluk and Ottoman conduct of warfare, the supporting production systems, local knowledges, and forms of economic, social, legal, and political organization.” The French left in defeat, but their ideas became thoroughly embedded in the minds of those who resisted them. Read More:

---Regnault, Jean-Baptiste - The Genius of France between Liberty and Death - Neoclassicism - Oil on canvas - Mythology - Kunsthalle Hamburg - Hamburg, GermanyThe Genius of France between Liberty and Death Date: 1795 --- Read More:

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