PIERRE PAUL PRUD'HORN
La Sagesse et la Vérité descendent sur la terre et les ténèbres qui la couvrent se dissipent à leur approche / Wisdom and Truth Descend to the Earth
Black and white chalk, charcoal on blue hand-made paper, mounted
Inv. No. 16337 (Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein e. V.)
Using his characteristic soft drawing technique, Pierre Paul Prud’hon shows Minerva, the personification of wisdom, together with the »naked« Truth, hovering in the boundless expanses of the heavens in the diffuse light of dawn. The ghostly forms of Error and Wickedness flee into the darkness. Far below these allegorical figures, the globe of the earth comes into view; on its surface, the word »FRANCE«, written in large letters, can be discerned with some difficulty.
It is rare for Wisdom and Truth to be depicted together, though there is a precedent in an engraving of 1715 by L. Desplaces after an original by A. Coypel. There Minerva has driven out Error and Folly so that Truth can reveal herself to mankind. Prud’hon’s style of drawing was influenced by the paintings of Leonardo and Correggio, whose works he had the opportunity to see in Paris as well as in Italy during the four years in which he held a scholarship to study in Rome 1784. Prud’hon executed the drawing in black and white chalk on blue-tinted hand-made paper, which lends itself well to the task of conveying the atmosphere of the dawn. To give the figures three-dimensional volume, he uses only very few lines, working instead with the effects that can be created by rubbing and blurring the chalk.
As a representative example of French art around the turn of the century, Prud’hon’s drawing reflects the intellectual and political transition of the years between Revolution and Empire. In order to give convincing expression to an ideological statement – the hopes vested in the new republic – in an image that would appeal directly to the senses, Prud’hon chose a classical subject, presenting it in an attractively adapted form which aroused great interest. Through the suggestive power of its visual language, La Sagesse et la Vérité asserts itself as an alternative to the severe, neo-classicist doctrine of the »history« painting practised by such artists as Jacques-Louis David, while also serving to prepare the ground for French Romanticism.
For his drawing La Sagesse et la Vérité Prud’hon was awarded a prize in 1795. Almost immediately afterward, he was commissioned to carry out an equally decorative ceiling painting based on the same design. Modifying the composition only slightly, he submitted the painting, which is ten times larger than the original drawing and is now in the collection of the Musée du Louvre.