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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Child Prodigies

Whenever people talk about the arts, the subject of child-prodigies very often comes up.  More often than not, such prodigies tend to be most abundant in music and dance.  Music, because it's apparently a gift that develops early in childhood, and dance because only young bodies can withstand the rigors of excruciating training involved.  In painting, prodigies are more often in their teens and inasmuch as painting isn't exactly a performing art, they are usually less renown.  Turner was a prodigy, so was Picasso, Michelangelo, and a few others.  Sometimes though, these prodigies start early and then don't quite fulfill the glorious expectations of their masters.  One such example of this was Antoine-Jean Gros.

Gros (pronounced Grows) was born in 1771.  At the prepubescent age of 12 he was a student in the studio of the classical painter, Jaques-Louis David (pronounced DA-veed).  Some say the young boy was one of the master's favorites.  Eventually, he grew to compete with his instructor for commissions from the Emperor Napoleon.  By the time he was 25, Gros was traveling with Napoleon and his armies as an art appraisers, choosing work to be confiscated from conquered lands and sent back home to Paris.  David hated this practice and denounced Gros and the emperor for it.  The master and his protege' seldom spoke to one another thereafter.  However, quite a number of paintings in the Louvre came as a result of this and the keen eye of Gros.

Napoleon in the Plague House at Jaffa,
1804, Antoine Gros

In 1804, Gros painted Napoleon in the Plague House at Jaffa. The painting is redundant in Romanticism. Napoleon is pictured standing Christ-like in the center, reaching out, touching his soldiers ill with a contagious diseases.  The gesture seems courageous and may be based on the medieval belief that rulers could cure diseases such as consumption and various bone maladies.  There is an overall golden glow to the painting set amidst Moorish arches and dying soldiers.  In spite of the heroic nature of Gros' work, the truth of the matter is something else.  When they became a burden to his campaign, Napoleon ordered the desperately ill soldiers of his own army poisoned.

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