The Art Of War: Representation Of War In Sculpture

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In my museum visit, I decided to visit Santa Barbara Museum of Arts. I decided to attend this museum because it’s closer to where I live and because I’ve grown fond of it since day one in attending art history classes in college. In my experience going to this museum, I’ve noticed that they have a great exhibition in Asian art and artifacts, as well as paintings by Van Gogh and Monet. The art work I selected was that of Antonin Mercie, Gloria Victis, 1874, who is a 19th Century French sculptor. I chose this piece of work because it grabbed my attention due to its detailed sculpting and representation of war. The location of it was in the first room of the exhibition 19th and 20th Century European Sculpture under war which has always been a theme throughout history. I believe that this piece of work can be put under the category of war. The piece of work that I will be comparing Gloria Victis to is the sculpture of the US Marine Corps Memorial, by Felix W. Weldon 1956. After reading about this work of art, I will compare the war essence that is Gloria Victis, to that of the US Marine Corps Memorial on how it brings their theme together. While being so far apart in time from one another, yet closer in the idea than they seem, I will expand on how the meaning of war corresponds to these works of art.

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The museum I decided to visit was the Santa Barbara Museum of Arts. I chose this museum because it’s one I’ve always enjoyed going to when doing research papers for class or only to go and enjoy a day of appreciating art. Being a local museum, my experience is always extraordinary with new exhibitions to show. The space is immense with warm white walls to allow the art to show its magnificence without fighting with the other pieces or work. Many of the rooms had an art that grabbed my attention, yet what pulled me towards more was the Gloria Victis, 1874, by Antonin Mercie, who is a 19th- 20th European Century French sculptor. Being under the exhibition of war, the sculpture captured the detail of a winged being pulling up a wounded soldier. It was glamorized in such a way that they had it on a turning table to allow the viewer to see it in every angle completely around.

I believe that Mercie’s, Gloria Victis, makes a great choice for the category of war due to its extended story of how it became and for what it was made for. It can make a good addition to Chapter 10, in the category of War in the book, sub-theme War Memorial. I chose this category because Mercie created Gloria Victis in memoriam of the fallen soldiers of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71. A great example/comparison to this would be the US Marine Corps War Memorial, by Felix W. Weldon, 1956. In this, Weldon represented the 6,800 soldiers who fought and died in the Iwo Jima in World War II. Similar to the soldiers in Weldon’s sculpture, with the soldiers raising that flag, Mercie had a winged figure raising a wounded soldier.

Art has always come in different mediums and textures with different meanings behind them. Different artist found ways to express war and meanings into their works of art. Yet, although being from different eras, artists always found a way to express messages through the artworks and more than ever there are hiding meanings. Marius Jean Antonin Mercie is no exemption. Born in 1845, Mercie studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris aside Francois Jouffroy and Alexandre Flaguiere. During his time there, Mercie mastered his style that later turned into his career, “…in 1868, he was awarded the Prix de Rome and completed his studies at the Academie de France” and “…in Rome, Mercié received the Légion d’honneur and first-class medal for his David Victorious”. Is was little time after that Mercie created one of his master pieces, Gloria Victis, with his combinations of styles, Baroque and classicism, “…both the David Victorious and the Gloria Victis represent Mercié’s skillful combination of Renaissance classicism and Baroque exuberance and technical complexity”. An example of this can be seen in the French sculptor, Antonin Mercie’s, Gloria Vicits, 1874, which was a sculpture made in memorial to the French soldiers that fought and died in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71. After Mercie created this sculpture, the composition of it was widely praised over that they made various size ones, from full scaled bronze ones to smaller sized statues. The meaning behind it is to commemorate those soldiers who fought, “…the statue’s lasting popularity stems from its ability to stand for all who die on the field of battle”.

The Gloria Victis is clearly a symbol of war even though it doesn’t explicitly show it. At first glance it looks more of a divine, deity sculpture showing an angel carrying a soldier. It wasn’t until three years later that Mercie created this sculpture. It was a war that the French did not win, yet, Mercie made something in their memory. After Mercie designed this piece of work, many questioned whether it truly represented the fallen soldiers if at all. The war to the French was a humiliation, that they felt that it was a bit much to create something to remember them by. Much of the controversy that came with it is that you see a winged figure in the nude wielding a wounded soldier. In the sculpture it shows a soldier facing down looking at his broken sword while reaching upward with his other arm. The winged being is descending on one foot, with an owl at the base of the sculpture with Laurel leaves which symbolize victory. Since this is a memorial of those who fought and perished in the war, many believe its death that is represented in the sculpture, “…there is some debate regarding the identity of the winged figure, the presence of the owl, the military breastplate, and the act of removing the dead from the battlefield suggest that he is Thanatos (Death)”. Although it clearly represents a soldier being carried, the hiding meaning behind it makes it much more impacting. Not knowing what’s taking it away or holding the soldier back up gives it the mystery behind it.

As I mentioned before, many artists have different ways to interpret their compassion or grief of war, and Felix W. Weldon is no exception. Weldon also created a statue in memory of the fallen soldiers during World War II, the US Marine Corps Memorial, created in 1956. The sculpture stands at thirty-two feet tall with a flag pole hitting sixty feet. The sculpture was based off an actual photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal, during the end of the war which inspired Weldon to create this sculpture. It was after the Marines’ marched up Iwo Jima’s Mountain Suribachi to raise the flag. When Weldon first saw the photograph, he was active in the US Navy. The statue itself isn’t fully made from bronze, “…Once the statue was completed in plaster, it was carefully disassembled and trucked to Brooklyn, N.Y., for casting in bronze”. The sculpture was made from the three soldiers, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, and John Bradley who were believed to be the ones who raised the flag. Later, it was known that John Bradley might have not been in the iconic picture of the flag raising. What’s interesting about this sculpture is the meaning, not just behind the message, but the shape in how it’s made and representation. There’s more than just a memorial to the fallen soldiers and those who fought, “….the soldiers form a triangle to indicate strength and solidity, while the numerous diagonals suggest tumbling haste” and “…the past blends with the present, as every day, a real flag is raised and lowered on the memorial”. The hidden meanings of it are what make it even more empowering. Not only can I take in its message of war, but also the unity and the fact that it represents the past and present.

The sculptures, US Marine Corps Memorial and Gloria Victis are both representations of war and memories of those who fought in such wars. Although they are made from two different time periods, the meanings behind them are very similar. They also contain hidden meanings that can tie them together; not in the same meaning, but because they have a hidden meaning. What makes them stand separately is that Gloria Victis was made in memory of a lost war, opposed to the US Marine Corps Memorial was created based off a won war. Still, it doesn’t take away its essence as to why it was made and what I see when looking at these sculptures. All in all, the essence of war has always been a topic in which artist like to express thoughts and meaning, whether positive or negative. Whether a war is lost or won, they will always be a part for it in history in which artist take way to show the viewer on their interpretation or emotion of the war. Unity always finds way to matter what war is being fought and who’s on the end of it.

14 May 2021

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