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Liberty crushing the Hydra of Despotism

Charles-Antoine Callamard

(1769 - 1821) | 988.5.1

Date : Late 18th century | Medium : Terracotta

Charles Antoine Callamard had a short official career, which began in 1805 on his return from Rome. He had been awarded the Prix de Rome in 1792; this was only re-established in 1797, and Callamard had then waited until 1803 to go to Italy.

He contributed to major official Empire commissions only between 1805 and 1815; his works include the Arc du Carrousel at the Louvre. Misgivings about his patriotism at the time may partly explain why he was so rapidly forgotten. Some twenty years after his death, the great sculptor David d’Angers wrote, on finding his name in a cemetery: ‘My heart swells at the memory of this artist, whom hardly anyone remembers now. That unadorned name moves me more deeply than any pompous, vain epitaph.’ Callamard, Pajou's pupil at nineteen, was in fact a gifted artist who embraced the Neoclassical style of his day with a sure mastery and remarkable precocity. He produced this sculpture at the age of twenty-five or six, when he was in Rouen – perhaps avoiding conscription. But while there may be doubts as to his sense of civic duty, there can be few about the quality of his work, particularly here.

This allegorical figure of Liberty crushing Despotism adopts a hieratic, even rigid position that emanates all the solemnity of the symbol represented: the people, wearing the Phrygian (or liberty) cap, tramples on the attributes of despotism (the yoke, sceptre and crown). This rigour is emphasised by two main verticals: the spear and fasces held by Liberty on each side.

But here, above all, Callamard shows us a highly original and personal vision of Neoclassicism in sculpture. There is an energy, a rawness that commands admiration, and something rugged in the exceptionally firm depiction of this woman, where each colossal limb expresses a solidity and power that seem eternal. But while the top of the figure's body is hieratic, endowed with a stability accentuated by the supported position of the two arms, the supple sway of the legs seems to thrust Liberty upwards to the skies. And the subtle play between the alternating smooth and hollow folds lends a harmonious unity to the whole piece, while softening the figure's massive solidity.