Engraving based on a classically inspired painting, Blind Homer (1814) by François Gérard. The engraving shows the Greek poet Homer in an epic pose, carrying a lyre and led by a youth, perhaps a pupil or guide. The pair stands on a rocky outcropping against a dramatic stormy seascape, light breaking through dark clouds. Gérard destroyed the original painting, according to his earliest biographer, Charles Lenormant, so we only know it today from Massard’s engraving. There is a related engraving, Bélisaire, engraved and published in 1806 by Auguste Desnoyers after Gérard’s 1797 painting of Belisarius, a general of the later Roman Empire. Both engravings follow a similar format in terms of the title and border, and have the common theme of a legendary blind man of antiquity in a dramatic setting with a youth.
In the Western classical tradition, Homer is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, epic poems that are widely regarded as formative influences on shaping the culture of Ancient Greece and tremendously influential on the history of Western literature. He is supposed to have lived in the 7th or 8th century BC, and the Iliad and Odyssey became fixed texts in the 6th century BC. According to the Ancient Greek tradition, Homer was a blind bard. Some accounts depict him as a wandering minstrel, traveling among the common people in harbor towns. Gérard’s depiction incorporates these aspects of the legend.
François Gérard was one of the most celebrated painters of post-Revolutionary France, especially for his portraits and large history paintings. He entered the studio of the Neoclassical master Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) at age 16, and became one of his star students. He made his Salon debut in 1791. Though he aspired to make his mark in the prestigious genre of history painting, a portrait of a young woman attracted considerable notice at the Salon of 1795 and he began attracting aristocratic patrons. By the early 1800s, a Gérard portrait was considered a status symbol. His subjects included Josephine Bonaparte, Maurice de Talleyrand, Catherine de Talleyrand, Juliette Récamier and Louis XVIII, who appointed him First Painter to the King in 1817. Throughout his career, Gérard continued to produce history paintings inspired by classical themes, including Belisarius (1795 and 1797), Cupid and Psyche (1798) and Daphnis and Chloe (1824). His Battle of Austerlitz (1806-10), commissioned by Napoleon, was highly praised at the 1810 Salon. Gérard never stopped evolving artistically, incorporating elements of Romanticism into the Neoclassical style in which he had been trained, and he influenced a younger generation of painters such as Delacroix.
Jean-Baptiste-Raphaël-Urbain Massard was a French engraver after paintings by artists such as Titian and Gérard. He also engraved a series of prints after ancient sculptures brought to Paris by Napoleon. Massard came from a family of engravers that included three of his brothers, his uncle and his father, Jean Massard (1740-1822), who served as engraver to the king. He was trained by his father and exhibited at the 1809 and 1810 Salons.
Full publication information: “F. Gérard Pinx’t. Raph. Urb. Massard Sculp. 1816. Dédié à Monsieur le Chevalier Ennius Quirinus Visconti, Membre de l’Institut de France. Par son dévoné Serviteur Raphaël Urbain Massard. A Paris, chez Chaillou-Potrelle, Editeur, Md. d’Estampes, Rue St. Honoré, No. 140.”
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, handling, soft creases.
“Belisarius.” Stair Sainty. http://www.europeanpaintings.com/paintings/gerard-baron-francois/belisaurius/ (7 February 2014).
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 5, p. 826.
Galitz, Kathryn Calley. François Gérard: Portraiture, Scandal and the Art of Power in Napoleonic France. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2013.p. 3, 5, 14-16 and 20. Online at http://www.metmuseum.org/research/metpublications/Francois_Gerard_The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art_Bulletin_v_71_no_1_Summer_2013 (7 February 2014).
“Homer.” PoemHunter.com. http://www.poemhunter.com/homer/biography/ (7 February 2014).
Langworthy, Jennifer Marie. On Shifting Ground: The Revolutionary Career of François Gérard. Dissertation. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2012. pp. 329-334.