Paolo and Francesca is painting by the French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, produced in seven known versions between 1814 and 1819. The story of Paolo and Francesca is derived from Dante’s Inferno. Today we are going to discuss one of them.
Here we have them both – Paolo kisses Francesca. Francesca was a daughter of a nobleman from Ravenna who had been wed in a politically arranged marriage to a much older man, Giovanni Malatesta, who was physically deformed and wholly absorbed by his continual wars. In Dante’s retelling of the tale, the poet encounters Francesca and Paolo in the second circle of hell, where they have been condemned to fly through the whirlwind in a meaningless embrace for all eternity because of a moment of carnal love. Francesca explained she had spent her time in reading with Giovanni’s attractive younger brother, Paolo; and one day, seduced by the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere, the young Italians were prompted to a trembling kiss. At just that moment, Giovanni happened upon his wife and brother and killed them both.
The important French neo-classical artist (and one of my favorite ones) Ingres, painted many medieval and Renaissance subjects. He developed a simplified style of strong silhouettes and bright colors based on early Renaissance artists. This manner was designed to fit the historical period of his subjects. When Ingres took up the story around 1814, a new translation of Dante’s masterwork made the Divine Comedy more accessible to French audiences, and the story of Paolo and Francesca in particular quickly became one of the Paris public’s favorite tragedies.
This style of this painting can be called a Troubadour Style – it was for French historical painting of the early 19th century with idealised depictions of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It can be seen as an aspect of Romanticism and a reaction against Neoclassicism. In painting, the troubadour style was represented by history painting portraying edifying historical episodes, usually in a form of quiet intimate anecdotal moments.
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