The Crucifixion, by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon

The Crucifixion, 1758
Pierre-Paul Prud’hon
The Louvre, Paris
278cm by 166cm

The Crucifixion painting by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon represents the Romanticism style of the nineteenth century that emerged after neoclassicism. Prud’hon’s work served as a bridge between the styles as he was clearly influenced by both movements as indicated by various paintings.

Prud’hon was born on April 4, 1758 in France. He studied and trained there until the age of 26 when he went to study in Italy. Early in his career, his style took a neoclassical turn, as shown in his The Union of Love and Friendship and The Glorification of the Government of Burgundy. These paintings emphasized the classical ideas of duty, honor, and virtue. Prud’hon also put other neoclassical themes into his early works including the use of classical form and structure. His paintings incorporated the symmetry and clarity common in the Greek and Roman classical art. The neoclassicism movement was also directly connected to political events, hence why Prud’hon painted about the Burgundy government. Because of neoclassicism, the idea that thought balances and moderates emotion was again prevalent in art and therefore society. Prud’hon’s work in the neoclassical movement took on some of the characteristics of Jacques-Louis David’s paintings. David is known for The Oath of Horatii and other works typical of the movement. However, the Italian artist Correggio had a much stronger effect on Prud’hon’s work and the Frenchman greatly admired the master.

in his career, Prud’hon was also influenced by Romanticism and by the work of Romanticism artists of the time. Prud’hon was especially admired for his use of chiaroscuro and convincing realism, both of which are utilized in The Crucifixion, which was completed in 1822. The stark contrast between the darkness in the background and the light on Christ’s body clearly presents the emotion that Prud’hon was attempting to convey. The viewer can connect with the painting because of the visible pain that Mary is feeling in the bottom right corner. Although very dark, more figures are visible in the background as well, mourning with Mary. Now that Jesus has been crucified, the world is filled with darkness once again. Jesus is the only way, and Prud’hon is able to convey that even though he is dead, the light that shines on him has not gone out. Sin, as exemplified by the darkness, is everywhere in the painting, but it has not overcome the light, nor will it ever be able to do so. Prud’hon’s ability to use these techniques to convey his feelings and to seek truth instead of reason very clearly makes him a successful Romanticism artist.

Prud’hon eventually returned to Paris and his success and popularity got the attention of wealthy Parisians and he painted in several private mansions. Napoleon Bonaparte also employed him. In his painting of Josephine, Napoleon’s wife, she is portrayed as an attractive woman but not an Empress, which made some think that Prud’hon was actually in love with her. He also worked for Napoleon’s second wife after the divorce of Napoleon and Josephine. Prud’hon never married, and died in Paris in 1823, making The Crucifixion his last great work.


Works Cited

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