In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Songs of Sorrow:Bardic Women in Girodet, Ossian, and Staël
  • Tili Boon Cuillé (bio)

As we look at Anne-Louis Girodet's Apothéose des héros français morts pour la patrie pendant la guerre de la liberté displayed in the Salon of 1802, commissioned by Napoleon for Malmaison, and inspired by the epics attributed to his favorite poet Ossian, our eye is drawn toward the Scots bard and the French general at the canvas's center (Figure 1). The dove of peace betwixt Odin's eagle and the French cockerel above and the vessels raised in a toast below intensify our focus. We are also vividly aware of the contrast between the Romantic style of Fingal's troops on the left and the Neoclassical style of Napoleon's on the right.1 If we wrest our eyes from the vertical line that divides the painting, however, they are drawn to the winged victory flying down from above and the myriads of maidens surging up from below. In his gloss of the painting on the occasion of its return to Malmaison after a century's sojourn in Germany, Jean Bourguignon considers these maidens evocative of the Valkyries, on the one hand, and mythological painting, on the other.2 We may, accordingly, be inclined to view them as nereids or muses. Yet they also caught the eye of Girodet's pupil Hyacinthe Louis Aubry-Lecomte, for they are featured in a disproportionate number of the lithographs in his Collection de têtes d'étude of 1822, where he identifies them by name. What becomes apparent in these studies is that the maidens bear instruments (Figures 2–3).

Who are these women and what was their role? Women appear in interpolated love stories throughout Ossian's poetry. Some die for men, others die at men's hands, still others take their own lives or simply fade away. Whether female warriors or hapless victims, they are uniformly of melancholy disposition. Yet beyond their fierce loyalty, moral fortitude, and tragic fates, these women are also [End Page 159] bards.3 Cómala—whose face is concealed by the eagle's wing in Girodet's painting but whose Celtic rebec is clearly visible—was betrothed to Fingal when he fell in battle. While all that is left of Fingal is a vision, what remains of Cómala is a voice.4 Malvina, betrothed to Ossian's son Oscar, likewise did not survive him. Leith Davis describes her as "the addressee of many of Ossian's poems and, more importantly, a bard in her own right."5 Girodet depicts Malvina alongside Ossian's wife Evirallin, both playing citheras.6 Evirallin was also a bard in her own right, for Ossian and Carril recall the days when they blended voices and she "touched the harp of music."7 While Ossian, Carril, and Ullin sing the tales that comprise Fingal, the epic nevertheless resonates with women's "songs of grief." Fingal's narrative structure embeds Brassolis's song of Grudar within Carril's song of Brassolis within Ossian's song of Carril. The metadiegetic bard is a woman.8 Girodet's painting, depicting women armed with instruments rather than weapons, recalls their status not as warriors or mourners but rather as musicians.


Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, Apothéose des héros français morts pour la patrie pendant la guerre de la liberté [The Apotheosis of French Heroes Who Died for Their Country During the War of Liberty], 1802. Chateau de Malmaison et Bois-Preau. (Photo: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY)

[End Page 160]


Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 2.

Hyacinthe Louis Victor Jean-Baptiste Aubry-Lecomte, Comala, Plate 8 from Collection de têtes d'étude, 1821–1822. Chateau de Malmaison et Bois-Preau. (Photo: RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY)


Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 3.

Hyacinthe Louis Victor Jean-Baptiste Aubry-Lecomte, Evirallina, Malvina, Plate 15 from Collection de têtes d'étude, 1821–1822. Chateau de Malmaison et Bois-Preau. (Photo: RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY)

[End Page 161]

Germaine de Staël heralded...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 159-165
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-18
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.