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General Bonchamps

Pierre-Jean David

(1788 - 1856) | 829.1

Date : 1822 | Medium : Original plaster cast for the Monument at Bonchamps (church of Saint-Florent-le-Vieil)

This plaster cast, dated 1822 in the bottom right corner, is the original mock-up for the statue of General Bonchamps of the Vendée. It was produced for the monument erected in his honour at the church of Saint-Florent-le-Vieil on the banks of the River Loire near Angers, the site of the General’s death in 1793. His dying command, ‘Spare the prisoners’ – a plea for clemency for the Republicans captured by his men – is immortalised on the plinth of the plaster cast. In 1817, fundraising efforts began to build a monument to the General with his statue as its centrepiece. The sculptor, David d’Angers, was especially invested in the work since his father, a Republican, had been one of the 5,000 prisoners who owed their lives to Bonchamps.

David follows the neoclassical tradition here. He was one of the first sculptors to learn from the pediment of the Parthenon in Athens, which he viewed in London in 1815: the general pose of the subject is reminiscent of that of the river deity Ialyssos. The boundary of the abdomen is characteristic of the work of Phidias. This magnified body exudes a powerful majesty that acquires moral weight. David adds a personal expressivity that touches on Romanticism: the tension of asymmetric features, the face open-mouthed and framed by loose curls, has a poignant humanity.

In this striking heroising of a figure presented alone and naked, gesticulating clearly in a decisive pose, David realises his ambition of becoming a ‘Plutarch sculptor’.