Object Image

The Mourning of Pallas

Pierre Didot l'ainé's project to revive the art of fine book publishing in the years following the Revolution provided welcome income for a number of David's students. Some of the greatest examples of French Neoclassical book illustration were the result of these ambitious undertakings, most notably the designs for the 1798 edition of Virgil, based on drawings supplied by Girodet and François Gérard.

This drawing for Book Eleven of The Aeneid features Aeneas and Iulus mourning Pallas, who was killed by the Trojans in battle. The elderly Acoetës, who famously warned of the Trojan horse, grieves over the dead body, while Aeneas comforts Pallas' son Iulus in the foreground. Inscribed below the image, in Latin, is Aeneas' exhortation, "Alas! How great a protection is lost to thee, Ausonia [Italy], and how great to thee, Iulus!"

Responding to the restricted format of book illustration, Girodet reduced Virgil's cast of characters to four, standing for youth, maturity, old age, and death. Pallas' corpse is bathed in ethereal moonlight--an effect for which Girodet had a life-long affection. The depiction of Roman warriors in the work of David and other artists of his circle constituted more than an aesthetic preference, it expressed an identification which extended to realms both political and moral. For Girodet, Virgil's epic story of the founding of the Roman republic provided a natural symbolic association with the founding of the French republic by the heroes and martyrs of the Revolution.

Perrin Stein, May 2014

Credit: The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1996

c. 1790-93
Pen and brown ink, brush and gray and brown wash, heightened with white
21.5 x 16.5cm
Image and text © Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2019

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