Posted By: Jack Censer
Date Posted: July 3, 2003, 8:50 PM
Permit me to be tendentious.
The simple fact of knowing the author, as opposed to knowing the
date the image was created, can make little or no difference in certain
circumstances. If one is interested in the meaning of an image for
the public view of an event, the main point at issue, it seems to
me, is how that image interrelates with other pictorial, textual,
and verbal descriptions of the same thing. In other words, if the
subject is simply public opinion, a broadened version of intertextuality
to include all types of sources ought to produce the most relevant
understanding of particular images. Grasping this context suggests
the interpretation. Therefore, knowing the date that an image is
released is crucial; knowing the author far less so. The one exception
to that is if the author has a reputation or political stance that
contemporaries would have been affected by. That would, of course,
indicate specific meaning.
On the other hand, knowing the author can be central to dissecting
the meaning that the image maker intended. If we know the point of
view of the author, then we can really use far less guesswork in
comprehending his/her meaning in the image. But one might reasonably
ask: If we know the author's intentions and his/her goal was clearly
to influence public opinion, don't we have a reasonably good view
of how everyone would have understood the image? Although I would
accept that point, I still think that the best source by far for
the general reading of an image is context, more than author.
Subject: RE: knowing the author
Posted By: Vivian Cameron
Date Posted: July 6, 2003, 9:05 PM
While I agree with Jack's
statement in part, I also think that knowing more about the author
would be helpful. We are fortunate to be familiar with Prieur's
political stance because it helps us understand why he chose certain
incidents to illustrate. But I find it more frustrating to deal
with our anonymous author's work because we don't know anything
about the person who created it. How would it help? It certainly
would help us know whether the image is meant to be critical, ironic,
etc. As I've looked at the work [Image
2], I realize that I'm not
certain what the position of the image-maker was. As I said in
my essay, this is someone who had some knowledge of artistic conventions—there
are allusions to the stoning of St. Stephen, etc. In fact, that
might mean that he wants the viewer to be sympathetic to Foulon.
What do other people think?
Subject: RE: knowing the author
Posted By: Barbara Day-Hickman
Date Posted: July 9, 2003, 4:07 PM
In response to Vivian's final question,
I would venture to say that the anonymous “Torture of Foulon” [Image
2] provides an
exceptionally critical depiction of both crowd and victim. As compared
with more sympathetic rococo versions of the suffering St. Stephen
(whose head and body remain intact), the decapitated torso of Foulon
with his grisly head raised on a pike would instead seem to evoke
repulsion. Furthermore, the dismembered body of Foulon, deprived
of either cognizance or feelings, offers no site for positive audience
empathy. In addition, the two men in the right foreground who appear
to drag the body through the street with attached cords could represent
the “headless” equivalent of their dismembered victim.
The artist's foregrounding of the backside of a dog in the frontal
plane of the picture would likewise suggest the irrational and bestial
nature of the narrative. When magnified—two men on the right and
the man and woman counterpoised at either side of the body appear
to replicate a circular “dance of death” around the victim.
While it is difficult to discern the details of the torture scene,
I would guess that the couple is lifting rocks and preparing to
stone the final remains of the victim.
The very presence of some women who participate
in the macabre celebration on the street while several others
witness the gruesome
scene from the right-hand balcony further underscore their engagement
in, or identification with the event. Such representations of cruel
and vindictive women were at odds with most popular prints that
located “virtuous” women attending quietly to their proper
functions in their domicile or trade, but rarely in the streets.
The very presence and participation of women in the public narrative
might have provoked audience incredulity or outrage. Similarly,
the anonymous crowd who carry bayonets in the background form a
shadowy, undifferentiated “headless” mass that embody
the violence and mayhem so feared by an apprehensive bourgeoisie.
It is likely that this rendition of Foulon's torture reveals the
foreboding of educated or propertied groups about the unbridled
energies of the revolutionary crowd.
If we do not know the engraver, the date
and situation of publication would be so helpful here. Perhaps,
like the Prieur “Hanging
of Foulon” [Image
25], the print was relatively contemporaneous
with the event, but it is also possible that the anonymous artist
selected and reinterpreted the famous narrative during the post
1793 period to vilify the egregious nature of Jacobin leadership.