Raphael and the Aesthetic Discourse of the Empire: Alexandre Tardieu’s Graphic Interpretation of “St Michael Vanquishing Satan
Raphael’s oeuvre defined French classical aesthetics and particularly his painting “St. Michael Vanquishing Satan” (1518) stood as a paradigm for academic doctrine. Charles LeBrun focused his first lecture for the Académie Royale in 1667 on the painting, and in 1806, the art historian Eméric-David published a new analysis alongside Alexandre Tardieu’s reproductive print in the luxurious print album Le Musée Napoléon. While following along the line of Lebrun’s definition of classical aesthetics, the 19th century interpretations argued for a new reading of Raphael within the French cannon. As art’s purpose under Napoleon was to project France’s hegemony, Raphael’s “St. Michael” referred to her permanence in military power and European presence. The painting that had long been considered a symbol of stately power, at the time of the Napoleon, allowed the scholar and engraver to align political interests of the state with a discourse on Raphael’s aesthetic position in contemporary art.