“Liberty Leading the People”

Eugene Delacroix “Liberty Leading the People” 1830. Oil on canvas.

I’m sure most of you recognize this painting from the cover of Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” record. I loved seeing a contemporary band theme an album off of modern art! Here in America we think of the figure of “Liberty” as a giant patina’d bronze statue, complete with crown and torch. But I actually prefer Delacroix’s version – she is right there in the fray – not standing to the side as a stark symbol, but ushering in revolution. She wears a Phyrigian cap – a symbol of a freed Roman slave, adopted by the Frebch working class revolutionaries. This painting helped usher in the age of Romanticism – not to be confused with Romantic love, but a style that promoted a heightened sense of reality – often over-exxagerating the truth to present ideas as more than an actual event. I also love that Delacroix placed a child next to her – a paralleled symbolism of innocence and a nation coming of age; leaving the old ways behind, but at a very high cost. These are not well trained soldiers, but a band of citizens, putting their hopes for a legacy of freedom before their own lives. I will never forget seeing this painting at the Louvre in Paris – massive in scale and heavy in history. I don’t think we can ever understand what a scene like this would have meant for those who lived through such a bloody and tumultuous time! (Original post to Instagram November 13, 2012.)

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