24 Oct JOVELLANOS AND CHATEAUBRIAND PORTRAYED BY GOYA AND GIRODET
For all readers who lament daily the intellectual poverty of our politicians. Madrid Tourist Guides dedicates this blog to them. We will tell you about two enlightened politicians of the 18th and 19th centuries. One in Spain and the other in France. Both dedicated their lives to serve their country and to fight for freedom and justice. They also fought the despotism of the powerful ones, the corruption, and the abuse of the rulers.
– Any resemblance to any Spanish politician of today is IMPOSSIBLE –
Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos in Spain, and François René de Chateaubriand in France, were two brilliant intellectuals who, because of their political commitment, suffered from murky machinations that sought to extinguish their voice and even their lives.
Both were leaders of the Enlightenment. Napoleonic Imperialism upset them. Both sowed the Seed of Romanticism.
Jovellanos was a Magistrate and Criminal Judge, Mayor of the House and Court, Economist, Poet, Playwright, Advisor of Orders, Academic, among others, of the Royal Academies of History, Fine Arts and Language, Minister of Grace and Justice, Member of the Central Supreme Board of the Kingdom and sponsor of what was his Life’s Work, the Royal Institute of Nautics and Mineralogy of Gijón.
The Viscount of Chateaubriand was a Diplomat of very noble birth, distinguished Soldier, Minister, Academician of the French Language, Ambassador, and Peer of France.
Jovellanos and Chateaubriand confronted the injustices of the Most Powerful ones. Even though they were aware of the damage their attitude would cause them. Jovellanos was sent to exile. That was the punishment for defending his friend Cabarrús from the intrigues hatched by Queen Maria Luisa, who hated the two friends.
Chateaubriand resigned from his high position in Napoleon Bonaparte’s government. He took this decision after the Emperor sentenced the death of the Duke of Enghien. Only based on crude accusations that were never proven.
Chateaubriand ventured to renounce the revolutionary symbolism of the guillotine. He unmasked it as an instrument used by the leaders, to kill dissidents and instill terror. The same Terror that, since Lenin, totalitarian regimes apply to the opposition. In addition, Chateaubriand was a kind of Wolfgang Göthe, Dante Alighieri, John Milton, or James Joyce from France. In other words, he had a divine, unsurpassed prose. The Best sample of it, is Memoirs Beyond the Grave. A posthumous book, in which he interweaves intimate reflections about his life and his time-period.
From Memoirs Beyond the Grave:
“On Bertrand Barère, the troubadour of the guillotine. On whose report the Convention based its decree that the Terror was the order of the day. He was able to escape the Terror itself, hiding in a carriage full of decapitated heads. Him, Barère, the same who stood under the scaffold, stepping in a pool of blood, to cry out Death! Barère was one of those tigers born with the breath of a light breeze.”
Jovellanos was a politician of tireless activity. He promoted innovative proposals for industrial development, roads, public and democratic education, urban planning, and confiscation of church properties. Jovellanos never married. Although his kind and delicate treatment attracted distinguished ladies from all over Spain.
He could not stand promiscuity in love liaisons. His melancholy rhymes were often steeped in the romantic flirtations of an unfortunate lover.
From Sonnet I
To feel of a burning passion, all its eagerness, anxiety, and agony;
To live without reward day after day; to doubt, suffer, to cry forever;
To love that who do not love, that who do not feel, that who do not correspond ;
To persuade that who believe and distrust; to plead to that who give and take back;
To fight against a terrible strength; to fear misfortune more than death;
to die, in short, of anguish and torment, a victim of an irresistible love:
this is my situation, this is my fate, and you want me to be happy, you cruel?
Jovellanos and Chateaubriand, their differences: Chateaubriand was passionate and arrogant. His dazzling prose and verb were not always based on rigorous analysis of things. He showed and energic enthusiasm in his frequent love affairs, and in panegyrics to the Bourbons first, and to Napoleon later. Finally, he reckoned in his old age, a painful personal paradox. The addressees of his praises had exercised a lack of respect to the law that he, an enemy of despotism and illegality, did not appreciated at the time. Yet, Chateaubriand‘s fervent monarchical loyalty prevailed over his abomination of tyranny. As a Peer of France, he voted the death sentence of the heroic General Ney. Chateaubriand also urged the sending of the ominous expedition of the 100.000 Sons of St. Louis to Spain to restore the Absolute Monarchy, even though he later regretted having promoted it.
Jovellanos was a visionary and coherent intellectual. He managed with perfection the projects he was able to carry out. In Seville, Jovellanos lamented that he lacked the power to abolish many big social vices. Like torture, malpractices of politicians, and the feared ”justice of the powerful”. As the Ministry of Grace and Justice, he was the victim of poisoning. It happened while working on the reform of the Court of Inquisition, and the secularization of University studies. Although, the most dangerous menace for his health was his denial to inform the Queen of Spain, who hated him since a long time. During the reign of the French invader José I, an old and sick Jovellanos refused to mediate in favor of the Monarch before the Asturian patriots. He denied as well to assume the post of Jose I’s Minister of the Inner Affairs. Immediately after, Jovellanos joined the patriots. The province of his homeland, Asturias, choose him for the Supreme Council of Spain. Once again, old Jovellanos exposed himself to retaliation from the French King.
Jovellanos and Chateaubriand, their parallels: They were both detached and honest persons. Both suffered economic hardships throughout their lives. They were lovers and defenders of Culture, History, and the Arts. Chateaubriand‘s favorite painters were Michelangelo, Rafael Sanzio, Jean Bondol, Pietro Perugino. The philosopher who influenced him the most was Rousseau. Jovellanos acquired paintings of the Divine Morales, Carreño, and Alonso Cano. He was a close friend of Goya. Jovellanos commissioned the extraordinary Goya’s Frescoes of San Antonio de la Florida. John Locke influenced Jovellanos on public education which was inhibited by the censorship of Catholicism.
Both, Jovellanos and Chateaubriand, were ”mother’s favorite children”. Chateaubriand‘s devoted mother’s death led him to rethink his rationalist stance towards Christianity. A short time after, Chateaubriand began to work on the ”Beauty of the Christian Religion”. Its essence: Christianity is perfect; men are imperfect. A perfect effect cannot come from an imperfect cause, ergo, Christianity is not a creation of man.
Jovellanos, during his unjust imprisonment in Mallorca made friendship with monks of Valldemossa. He took part in their religious services and enjoyed their Gregorian chants. This brought him to meditate on the link between Christianity and European culture. The Christian religion led Jovellanos and Chateaubriand to long for the Gothic period. Both felt saturated in the 18th century. Both dreamed about precious Gothic hermitages, churches, and cathedrals. Chateaubriand and Jovellanos alternated Middle Age exaltations with that of Nature. Long walks through beautiful landscapes. Reflective stops at cemeteries or archaeological ruins. In fact, the presentiment of death shrank their souls in a deep, romantic melancholy .
Portrait of Jovellanos by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes
Prado Museum. 1798. Oil on canvas, 205 x 133 cm.
Goya and Jovellanos were friends since 1783. Jovellanos was ”a good friend of his friends”. This attitude earned him many criticisms from his enemies. Thanks the Jovellanos mediation, Goya received important commissions. The most important being the decoration of the dome of the Chapel of San Antonio de la Florida.
Goya portrayed a 54-year-old Jovellanos as Minister of Grace and Justice. Jovellanos was in poor health and weak when he posed for Goya in Aranjuez. Some of his political enemies had poisoned him. He suffered ferocious attacks and intrigues from dark instances. Some authorities felt threatened by his reform of the Inquisition Court, the Agrarian Law and University Secularization.
Queen María Luisa’s aversion to Jovellanos rose to the highest peaks of rage. It is easy to suppose that Goya was aware of his friend’s hardships. So, he captured in the portrait Jovellanos’ reflective sadness. Also featured, are some symbols of his friend’s wisdom. In fact, Goya admired his friend and felt sorrow for his penuries.
About the Portrait. On the table, there is a sculpture of the Goddess of Arts and Wisdom, Minerva. It looks down at Jovellanos while, in a protective attitude, extends her right arm towards him. ( Goya, the genius. He managed to donate a ”sketchily” sculpture a touching expressiveness). In her left hand, Minerva holds a rectangular slate with the emblem of the Royal Institute of Nautics and Mineralogy in Gijon. This Institute was the work of which Jovellanos was most proud. Its realization cost him lots of ‘’blood, sweat, and tears’’. On the table, there are piles of files that testify to the untiring spirit of work of Jovellanos as a politician. In his right hand, he holds a folded sheet of paper. It had the same meaning as the sheet of paper hold in the right hand by the young King Felipe IV portrait by Velazquez? Or it contained some rhymes by Jovellanos-poet ? Or the beginning of a satire about the bad habits of the nobility or the silly ‘’Frenchifies’’?
Whatever it is, Goya got an excellent psychological portrait of his friend. Jovellanos transmitted the discouragement that his position as Minister caused him. The situation in Spain afflicted him. The enemies who plotted his dismissal harassed him. His health has bad issues. He feared for his life. And he was not able to see a way out, but to resign.
Poor Spain, a Nation without its Head… Wretched me!” were Jovellanos last words.
(As I write this blog, I imagine that all the visitors to the Prado Museum who look at this portrait from their left, center, or right, would feel that the protagonist, who turns his position to all sides, is meditating on the panorama that Spaniards are experiencing in October 2020, concluding, in silence, ”Poor Spain, a Nation without its Head… Wretched Spaniards; there is no remedy!) Continuing this thought, we must recognize that Goya, managed to make a timeless work. Spain was a headless Nation in 1798 and continues to be so in 2020.
I particularly like the varied earth-green tonalities that Goya uses for the background. The same goes for the yellow ochre of the furniture. How can I not praise the soft light that penetrates the room and shines on the sculpture of the Goddess? The composition is well balanced. Goya mastered to provide an atmosphere of tranquility and harmony. Thus, it eliminated the tension to which the depicted was being submitted. Jovellanos figure immediately attracts the attention of the viewer. Goya gave the subject of the portrait a mobile perspective. His body and gaze turn towards all the places from which he is observed. Goya’s technique once again amazes us with the colors of Jovellanos‘ attire. The jacket of an indefinable ”greenish-grey”, brown ochre trousers, white lead socks, and black ivory shoes.
Don Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, you were a Great Man and a Good Person. This is how your brilliant friend Francisco Goya y Lucientes portrayed you. The affection that Goya professed to you inspired one of the best portraits of the 18th century. Jovellanos portrait belongs to the most precious Prado Museum masterpieces.
Portrait of Chateaubriand by Anne Louis Girodet de Roussy or ”Girodet Trioson”
Museum of the History of the City and Country of Malouin, 1808/1809. 130 x 96 cm
Like Jovellanos with Goya, Girodet portrayed Chateaubriand when the latter was convalescing from a serious illness.
Girodet’s portrait of Chateaubriand merited the following judgment from Napoleon: ”He looks like a conspirator coming down the chimney”. But, 40-year-old Chateaubriand liked his portrait. He praised Girodet‘s talent ”for filling the picture of my dark figure with his genius”.
At the time when indisposed Chateaubriand was being painted, Napoleon had invaded Spain. Chateaubriand criticized Napoleon: ”Napoleon’s campaign against Spain was an abuse. If he had been a good ruler of Spain he could have gained many political and military advantages. Instead, he managed to turn the occupied territory into a training camp for the British army. And anticipated his destruction, provoking the rebellion of the Spanish people.
As a good Spain’s connoisseur, Chateaubriand had the authority to censure Napoleon’s foolishness. In Spain, he had explored Granada, the Alhambra and the Generalife; the magnificence of Seville; the monumental Mosque of Cordoba; the Palace of Aranjuez (where Goya portrayed Jovellanos 10 years earlier), its inspiring Gardens; the imposing Monastery of El Escorial; the sublime Aqueduct of Segovia and the Cathedral of Burgos, a jewel of Gothic that Chateaubriand so much venerated.
Chateaubriand, was already a well-known writer. He had published three excellent books. Atala in 1803, Rene in 1802, The Genius of Christianity, also in 1802, and a great romantic poem (The Martyrs in 1804).
Girodet placed Chateaubriand in Rome. Chateaubriand was Diplomat at the French Embassy in the ”Eternal City”. Walking along the banks of the Tiber, he conceived the idea of writing his Memoirs, published later in the same year of his death. Rome, Horace’s Villa that inspired him a sweet melancholy every time he walked through it. Rome, where Chateaubriand wanted to wait, among pines and monuments, the arrival of his Last Hour. Rome, where he accompanied Madame de Beaumont (author of Beauty and the Beast novel) in her agony. That Rome where, strolling near the Coliseum, he met by chance his nephew Christian. Young Christian was one of the few relatives of the writer-poet which the merciless Guillotine had ignored. Christian, missed half of his life in an orphanage. Now, Young Christian, had become Prefect of the Jesuits. Spending vacation in Tivoli with his students, he bumped with his uncle in a street near the Tito Baths !
About the portrait : The Coliseum, near the place where Chateaubriand and Christian embraced each other. The same Colosseum that framed the Martyrs, Chateaubriand‘s tragic poem. The Coliseum that Girodet aggregated to the portrait to build a background of nostalgic atmosphere.
Girodet defined the line of the horizon in the middle of the portrait. Chateaubriand stands in a huge and ”photographic” close-up. He seems to come out of the painting. It got impossible to paint him full-body. In a remote distance, the faded Colosseum and the blurred Palatine Hill. Chateaubriand relies on an ivy-covered wall. He dresses like a Romantic. Dark brown tailcoat, black vest, white shirt, gastronomic tie, and wide pants. A rambunctious mane falls on Chateaubriand‘s forehead. Where did Chateaubriand looked? Was he discouraged, annoyed with his stay in Rome ? For various reasons, The Eternal City seems to be no longer as pleasing to him as it was once. Or does he moaned in pain that the burning breast of his lover, the feminist Hortense Allart, is not able to make him forget? Whom ? Chateaubriand’s obsession with the angelic and unreachable Louise Vernet inspires his romantic imagination .
Louise Vernet, Chateaubriand’s ”little bird” :
‘’When Louise is in a room I am always afraid that someone will forget to close the window and she will ascend to heaven from where she seems to have come down’’.
Girodet demonstrates an impeccable neoclassical technique. He was a good pupil of Jacques-Louis David. I invite you to enjoy the veins and knuckles of Chateaubriand‘s hands, his incipient one-day beard, that aquiline nose that protrudes from the canvas, the neatly drawn ivy leaves, the qualities of the wall…
Very high and very powerful Lord of Chateaubriand, you were a good person, loyal to your principles and friends. Above all, a true romantic, at the same level of Lord Byron. This is how Girodet portrayed you, as an immovable statue of Romanticism. You were petulant, you committed political errors. It’s OK. You have been forgiven. Because you were the author of Memoirs from Beyond the Grave. One of the most extraordinary works of Universal Literature. Besides, you dared to confront the fearest despot of your time.