0023 Last Words: David's Mars Disarmed by Venus and the Graces (1824)
Subjectivity, Death, and Postrevolutionary Late Style
Completed as he was approaching death in 1825, Jacques-Louis David's final refractory history painting is an intricate summation of a life in politics and painting. The article attempts to re-interpret the canvas in relation to the dual problem of 'late style' and the condition of exile. I argue that this history painting invokes the metaphor of non-sex for the condition of exile; and as a late gesture stages an anomalous return to a pre-lapsarian eighteenth century. The painting, I conclude, reveals less the transcendent subjectivity of an artist approaching biological death, than the critical disarming of a once-radical neoclassical aesthetic itself, in its tragic late phase.
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