The J. Paul Getty Museum

Belisarius

Object Details

Title:

Belisarius

Artist/Maker:

Baron François-Pascal-Simon Gérard (French, born Italy, 1770 - 1837)

Culture:

French

Place:

Paris, France (Place Created)

Date:

1797

Medium:

Oil on canvas

Object Number:

2005.10

Dimensions:

91.8 × 72.5 cm (36 1/8 × 28 9/16 in.)

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Object Description

Along a winding dirt path, the blind Belisarius carries his young guide. The boy has been bitten by a snake, which remains coiled around his bleeding leg. With his right arm wrapped limply around Belisarius's neck and his eyes closed, the youth balances precariously between life and death. Belisarius's eyes are also closed, but guided by his stick he moves forward with determination and purpose. He rises heroically against the spectacular sunset, a monumental figure creating a powerful outline against the sky. But the flaring sunset also signals a chill night and the uncertainty of the path ahead.

Belisarius was a popular Byzantine general of the Roman Empire whose promising career was sabotaged by the jealous Emperor Justinian I. In 1767, a novel by Jean-François Marmontel revived interest in Belisarius. In Marmontel's novel, the emperor has the heroic general blinded, reducing Belisarius to begging. He is eventually rediscovered and aided by former officers and his family. This dramatic tale of patriotism, injustice, and redemption was widely embraced in revolutionary and post-revolutionary France and was a popular subject for artists--including Jacques-Louis David (François Gérard's teacher), Jean-Antoine Houdon, and Jean-Baptiste Stouf (whose sculpture Belisarius is also in the Museum's collection).

For this painting, Gérard both drew and departed from Marmontel's retelling of Belisarius's life. The general's young companion is present in Marmontel's novel. But to stress the bravery and pathos of the subject, Gérard introduced the incapacitating snakebite. While Belisarius was typically depicted in the act of begging, Gérard shows him standing and erect, his muscular form in sharp contrast to his guide's weakening body. The prominent helmet hanging from Belisarius's belt emphasizes the general's heroic past and underscores the injustice of his fall from favor.

Provenance
Provenance
1797 - possibly 1807

Baron François-Pascal-Simon Gérard, French, born Italy, 1770 - 1837, possibly retained by the artist in his studio, until 1807.
Source: Letter from Alain Latreille, March 2, 2004.

before 1813 - 1826

Count Giovanni Battista de Sommariva, 1760 - 1826, by inheritance to his younger son, Luigi de Sommariva, 1826.

1826 - 1839

Count Luigi de Sommariva, died 1839, by inheritance to his wife, Mrs. Luigi de Sommariva, 1839.

1839

Mrs. Luigi de Sommariva [sold, Count de Sommariva sale, Paillet, Paris, February 18-23, 1839, lot 8, to Jules-Paul-Benjamin Delessert.]

1839 - 1847

Jules-Paul-Benjamin Delessert, French, 1773 - 1847 (Hôtel d'Uzès, 176 rue Montmarte, Paris), by inheritance to his brother, Baron François-Benjamin-Marie Delessert.
Source: Posthumous estate inventory, March 22, 1847.

1847 - 1868

Baron François-Benjamin-Marie Delessert, 1780 - 1868 (21 rue Raynouard, Paris), upon his death, held in trust by the estate.
Source: Posthumous estate inventory, February 10, 1868, no. 63.

1868 - 1869

Estate of Baron François-Benjamin-Marie Delessert, 1780 - 1868 [sold, Delessert sale, Pillet, Petit, Paris, March 15-18, 1869, lot 150.]

- 2003

Estate of Mlle. G... [sold, Drouot Richelieu, Paris, June 23, 2003, lot 36.]

- 2004

Private Collection, sold through Guy Sainty (London, England) to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005.

Exhibitions
Exhibitions
Exposition...au profit de la Caisse de secours et pensions de la Société des artistes (1846)
  • Galeries des Beaux-Arts (Paris), 1846
L'Antiquité rêvée: Innovations et résistances au XVIIIe siècle (December 2, 2010 to May 30, 2011)
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, March 20 to May 30, 2011
Bibliography
Bibliography

Janoray, Charles. The Head of Homer, 1813-1814, by François Gérard (Rome 1770-Paris 1837): The Rediscovery of a Lost Painting, sale brochure (New York: Charles Janoray, n.d.), unpaginated, n7.

Landon, Charles Paul. Annales du musée et de l'école moderne des beaux-arts. 6 vols. (Paris: Didot jeune, 1802), vol. 2, pp. 111-12, pl. 56.

Landon, Charles Paul. Annales du musée et de l'école des beaux-arts. Vol. 1, École française moderne. 2nd ed. (1802; repr. Paris: Pillet ainé, 1832), pp. 101-2, pl. 48.

"Beaux-Arts: De la Galerie de M. de Sommariva." L'Artiste, 2nd ser., 2, no. 14 (1839), p. 185.

Paillet, Paris. Catalogue de la galerie du comte de Sommariva [...]. February 18-23, 1839, p. 11, lot 8.

"Catalogue de la collection de tableaux de MM. Delessert." Bulletin des Arts 4 (1845), p. 45, no. 45.

Notice sur la collection de tableaux de MM. Delessert (Paris: Schneider et Langrand, 1846), pp. 22-23, no. 59.

Explication des ouvrages de peinture exposés dans la Galerie des beaux-arts [...] au profit de la Caisse de secours et pensions de la Société des artists [...] le 11 janvier 1846, exh. cat. (Paris: Imprimerie de Jules-Juteau, 1846), p. 5, no. 19.

Lenormant, Charles. François Gérard, peintre histoire: Essai de biographie et critique (Paris: Imprimerie d'A. René et cie., 1847), p. 84.

Blanc, Charles. "François Gérard." In Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles. Vol. 3, École française (Paris: Vve. Jules Renouard, 1865), pp. 6, 23.

Pillet, Petit, Paris. Catalogue des Tableaux composant la Galerie Delessert. March 15-18, 1869, p. 70, lot 150.

Blanc, Charles. "La Galerie Delessert." Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 2nd ser., 1, no. 3 (March 1, 1869), pp. 216-17.

Haskell, Francis. "More about Sommariva." Burlington Magazine 114, no. 835 (October 1972), p. 692.

Mazzocca, Fernando. "G. B. Sommariva o il Borghese mecenate: Il 'cabinet' neoclassico di Parigi, la galleria romantica di Tremezzo." Itinerari 2 (1981), p. 156n48.

Le Breton, Joachim. Rapports à l'Empereur sur le progrès des sciences, des lettres et des arts depuis 1789. Vol. 5, Beaux-Arts. Udolpho van de Sandt, ed. (Paris: Belin, 1989), p. 121.

Crow, Thomas. Emulation: Making Artists for Revolutionary France (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 332n58.

Drouot Richelieu, Paris. Succession de Mademoiselle G... vendu au profit de la Fondation de France. June 23, 2003, p. 14, lot 36, ill.

Lécosse, Cyril. "De l'intérêt d'être amis, ou le 'Bélisaire' de Gérard et son 'Portrait d'Isabey, peintre.'" In Au-delà du maître: Girodet et l'atelier de David, exh. cat. Richard Dagorne et al. (Montargis: Musée Girodet, with Somogy éditions d'art, 2005), p. 115n18.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 7th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007), p. 129, ill.

Faroult, Guillaume, et al., eds. Antiquity Revived: Neoclassical Art in the Eighteenth Century, exh. cat. (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, with Musée du Louvre and Gallimard, 2011), p. 170, no. 92, ill., entry by Helga Kessler Aurisch.

Galitz, Kathryn Calley. François Gérard: Portraiture, Scandal, and the Art of Power in Napoleonic France (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013), p. 15, fig. 10.