Exposing the infinite madness of the unconscious. Showing that anti-establishment art could be accepted, ultimately, by the powers that be through a direct democratic appeal to the what could be called “the great unwashed” unperturbed and uncorrupted by the veneer of academia; a non- top-down imposition of taste. It was art under the spell of the moon and relaxing its grip on classical sanity. After all, to be romantic, in the sense of a Byron, Shelley or Keats, also meant to be mad, and despite the postures, to liberate oneself from social and self control; to let reason be supplanted by a trust in the emotional life, the infinite possibilities that existed after collapsing the stern geometric order and sober rational program of classicism.
Girodet opened the modern doors to sensationalism, and exploring the dynamic passages of violence and brutality, of invoking the psychological and imposing the paradoxical in art which meant the aesthetics of the political. It was a visual language for art and culture that did not share the assumptions of classicism. Girodet perceived that art was not innocent, implying a choice between, similar to Walter Benjamin’s analysis, the establishment’s aesthetization of politics and the democratic, with all its diversity, politization of art, Benjamin’s concepts “useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art.”
Kuspit: Girodet wanted freedom from academic control — the personal and social freedom from authoritarian rule the revolutionary emblem of Liberty embodied. But for Girodet academic classicism was not just controlled and controlling but overcontrolled and overcontrolling, and as such, creativity-stifling. To continue to be a classical artist was to commit creative suicide. For Girodet, David was a soul murderer, and Girodet rebelled against David to protect the soul of his art, and made art that murdered the soul of David’s art in revenge. Revenge had replaced envy.
Girodet wanted artistic freedom, but in overthrowing the super-ego control of David’s classicism, he exposed the infinite madness of the unconscious. The silvery moonlight in The Sleep of Endymion is a sign of lunacy — divine madness, if you want to call it that. Luna is the ancient Roman goddess personifying the moon, and to be a lunatic — a devotee of Luna — is to be moonstruck, as Endymion is. Luna is the alchemical sign of silver, and Endymion’s torso is embalmed in silvery moonlight. The lunatic light feeds on his body, as though replenishing itself, however much it remains self-generating. Girodet’s light gathers momentum, becoming more and more manic, threatening to obliterate all sense of control. All forms will completely dissolve in its delirious formlessness, which is what seems about to happen in the Ossian painting. Girodet seems to flesh out his elated phantom figures only in nominal conformity to classical demands….
…Classicism, which asserted the power and rights of the ego, became super-egoistic in neo-classicism — academicized classicism. As many scholars point out, however romantically mad they are, Girodet’s most famous paintings never entirely lose their grip on classical sanity, however much they lose their academic character. Thus, the romantic element of infinitizing light is the crucial aspect of The Sleep of Endymion, but the classical iconography is also important. The bodies of Endymion and Cupid are also classical in import — classically proportioned and clearly ideal. The work is a romantic vision but it has a classical underpinning, formally as well as iconographically. This is true of virtually all of Girodet’s “romantic” pictures, including such empirically descriptive works as Young Child Studying His Lessons (1800), one of the earliest attempts to articulate the mental state of a child — another indication of Girodet’s curiosity and modernity. And genius — he was a much more authentic, insightful genius than David, who was overly dependent on classicism and thus less trusting of emotional life, which he conveyed inadequately, certainly in comparison to Girodet.
…or the ingeniousness of the poetic conceit that is the primary source of the picture’s striking originality. Instead of appearing at her beloved’s side wearing a human aspect, Girodet’s Diana/Luna manifests herself as a pale, silvery moonbeam that enters the bucolic scene through branches carefully parted by an obliging Cupid, and tenderly caresses the graceful form and soft flesh of the sleeping Endymion. Correggio’s Jupiter and Io comes to mind, where Zeus, having metamorphosed into a cloud, descends to make love to the ecstatic nymph Io. The two paintings share a related search for the most extreme refinement of erotic sensuality. Regardless of his sources, Girodet’s softly sensuous ideal of male beauty, his oblique other-worldly light and his arbitrary treatment of na
are all far removed from the ruddy muscular heroes, the incisive theatrical lighting and the austere realism associated with David’s revolutionary art. Even before Endymion was completed Girodet wrote: “I have not yet told M. David what I intend to send to the Academy. In the meantime, I will write to him before the exhibition, for I prefer that he learn it from me. I am attempting to distance myself from his genre as much as possible….”.
Indeed Girodet has taken David’s proposition with its rational, objective handling of moralizing antique themes and turned it on its end, willfully transforming the model into a fanciful vehicle for subjective poetic expression. Some writers on Girodet consider The Sleep of Endymion the first masterpiece of French romantic painting. This may well be true. Read More:http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/index.php/spring06/164-girodet-1767-1824