Anne-Louis Girodet Trioson's Portrait of C.[itizen] Jean-Baptiste Belley, ex-representative of the Colonies, is evidence of the changing ideological situation during the French Revolution. Girodet was one of the most learned and accomplished students of Jacques-Louis David who strove to surpass his teacher in two ways: 1) by painting David's Neoclassical style so well that his handling surpasses that of his master, and 2) by choosing subject matter never before explored by David. Girodet accomplishes both within this work. The Neoclassical handling of the image has been achieved with amazing clarity, and the central figure of an identified black man had never been displayed in the Salon previously. The work was without precedent and without progeny. It successfully transcends the boundaries of portraiture into the highest tier of the Academic hierarchy: History Painting. Lacking in the existing scholarship of this portrait as history painting is that the work is successful in fulfilling a didactic and moralizing function, bearing significance to the general public. Scholars have hitherto ignored the striking visual similarities between this and Grand Tour portraits of Englishmen earlier in the century. This portrait of Belley calls into question accepted post-colonial readings by not adhering to a strict Orientalist interpretation. His hybrid nature nullifies readings that he is merely a black man posed as a French one. Belley cannot be seen as simply African, nor Haitian, nor French, nor military man, nor politician; each of these aspects of his being add up to his individual identity. It was because of Belley's race that he was chosen for this portrait; his complex nature creates a dramatic painting relevant to varied members of the general public, his status as a black man allows for a politically relevant subject worthy of history painting, and the choice of Girodet's model of Grand Tour portraiture with its connotations of education, travel and social status—when applied to a black man—make this a revolutionary painting unparalleled in history.



College and Department

Fine Arts and Communications; Visual Arts



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Anne-Louis Girodet Trioson, Portrait of Citizen Jean-Baptiste Belley, Post-colonial Theory, Grand Tour, History Painting, Portraiture, French Revolution, Saint Domingue, Guillaume-Thomas Raynal, Images of Blacks, Neoclassicism