Adolphe-William Bouguereau 1825-1905 BACK

A W Bouguereau
The Flagellation of Christ
oil on canvas 390x210cm
Catherdal of La Rochelle

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Religious imagery was a constant theme in Bouguereau's oeuvre. At times he used religious themes to make public his private feelings of loss and anguish. Pieta (1876) and Vierge consolatrice (Virgin of Consolation, 1877) memorialize the deaths first, of his son Georges, at the age of sixteen in July 1875, and second, of his wife, Nelly, and eight-month-old son, William-Maurice, only months apart in the spring of 1877. Bouguereau translated his experience into Christian terms. When he showed Pietti at the Salon of 1876, critics aptly likened the group of the Virgin and Christ to Michelangelo's marble Piet&, now in Saint Peter's in Rome. Michelangelo's group, surely the inspiration for Bouguereau's image and which Bouguereau might have seen during the years he was in Rome, had become the archetype for this subject and, by extension, a mother's grief at the loss of a child. By the 1870s photographs of famous works of art had become widely available, affording closer fidelity to the original. Bouguereau purchased one of these and hung it up in his studio (see Figure 9). Vierge consolatrice, reputedly the artist's most famous painting, places the Virgin as mediator between the mother's grief and the heavens. The deaths of so many people in his family, in such a short time, coalesce into these strong forms, monumentalized by the great mass of robes. We can assume that Bouguereau found solace in this image of intercession; its popularity likewise testifies to the consoling powers of Catholicism.

excerpt from: Bouguereau by Fronia Wissman

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