Instytut Historii Sztuki <Posen> [Editor]
Artium Quaestiones — 11.2000

Page: 98
DOI issue: DOI article: DOI Page: Citation link: 
https://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/artium_quaestiones2000a/0100
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STANISŁAW CZEKALSKI

life, until eventually the truth of his observations came to fuli view. Obvious stylistic
differences between the “baroąue” Norblin and the “classicist” David madę scholars oyer-
look some otherwise significant similarities between the works of both artists as regards
framing, arrangement of scenes, composition, poses of human figures, etc.
First, the object of consideration is King Popiel and His Court [Król Popiel w otoczeniu
dworu], the first in a series of illustrations to Ignacy Krasicki’s [satirical poem] Myszeida,
madę in 1777. Thus far, the whole series has been interpreted as a document illustrating
the initial stage of Norblin’s discovering the “truth” about the contemporaneous Poland. As
it turns out, though, the analysis of the composition indicates that in fact it does not refer
to the realities of Poland, but to David’s painting, Death of Seneca, which it uniąuely
transforms, maintaining, however, in the inseparable connection of form and content,
some crucial features of the model. Another interpretation focuses on the etching, Alex-
ander the Great and Diogenes (1786), which thus far has been treated as another step in
the process of Norblin’s abandonment of the academic conventions when - in Porębski and
Kępińska’s opinion - a classic theme from ancient history allegedly transforms into a
visual critiąue of the feudal social relations in Poland. Yet, ąuite on the contrary, the pre-
sent analysis demonstrates that Norblin’s etching is deeply rooted precisely in the tradi-
tion of the Paris Academy. Distinct references to the paintings of David - again Death of
Seneca and Belisarius - are juxtaposed with inspirations with the art of Charles Lebrun:
on the one hand, the group of "Apollo Served by Nymphs," which, according to Lebrun’s
drawings, was sculpted by Franęois Girardon, and on the other, the most famous painting
of Lebrun, Persian Queens at the Feet of Alexander. Inasmuch as in his dialogue with
David’s painting Norblin revised the tragic images of the dying Seneca and begging
Belisarius, the basis of that revision was not the “truth” of Polish reality, but Lebrun’s
models of the representations of the cosseted Apollo and benevolent Alexander, which re-
sulted in the reversal of the meanings of David’s paintings. While the characters painted
on the latter’s canvases are unhappy, suffering victims of cruel tyrants, maimed or sen-
tenced to death, Norblin shows total carelessness of Diogenes who ignores the king’s
favors. If David’s paintings may be interpreted as accusations of the evil and thoughtłess
imperial power, against their background Norblin’s Alexander and Diogenes appears, on
the contrary, as an allegory of the king’s friendly, caring, and benevolent majesty, taking
heed of the subjects’ welfare and open to the wisdom of philosophers.
The next analyzed representation by Norblin is his famous vision of Oath ofAllegiance
to the Constitution ofthe Third of May, thus far considered to have opened a new stage of
the artisfs development, when he ultimately rejected the ballast ofthe French artistic con-
ventions, conveying nothing but the truth of the immediately experienced events. Opposing
the interpretations which treat this representation as a documentary record of a specific
situation, madę “on the spot” by an eyewitness present in the Parliament hall, the author
of the essay claims that the painting must have been executed at least a few months later,
in the process of revising David’s drawing Oath at Jeu de Paume. Norblin’s image of the
Chamber of the Senate was constructed in a way that explicitly indicates the absence of
the spectator at any place which may be assumed to have been the actual point of view ac-
cording to the principle of “here and now”. The perspective diagram determines the posi-
tion of the spectatoPs eyes on the level of the window cornice, rather than on that of the
galleries, which makes the vantage point ąuite absurd. The subseąuent revisions of the
painting’s composition in its versions of 1791, 1797, and 1804-1806 seem to significantly
correspond to the changing evaluation of the event, particularly as regards the confronta-
tion of the king and the people represented by the members of parliament and the public.
The earliest sketches, thus far considered the closest to “authentic observation” of the
event, in fact turn out the most distant from the actual look of the parliament hall and
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