We had seen art mostly used as a tool for religion. We speculate religious uses of art all the way from the Neolithic age to the renaissance and the revolution. We don’t fully see art used in a complete sense of political posturing until the time of the Medici. The family, who began using their sponsorship of art as a means of religious fulfillments, began to realize the power of art in demonstrating their influence in society. The mausoleum they had commissioned the construction of under the art direction of Michelangelo was meant to memorialize the family’s name and to solidify their place in the memories of Florentines forever. Although the underlying message is clear, to the layman person of Florence this mausoleum most have been a sign of the Medici’s political and economical clout.
Jacques Louis David will be another historical pillar of art who will recognize the political power of art fairly early on in his career. The revolution would give Jacques Louis David the chance to begin to dabble in the use of art as a political force. The revolution would begin his career path into political art by a commission to paint The Oath of the Tennis Court. Although the work was never completed, Jacques Louis David would nevertheless be thrust into the political turmoil of the time. The Death of Marat, a painting of the death by murder of a National Assembly member, would also become a subtle piece of propaganda used in the revolution. The fear induced by the assassination of Marat helped iconize the man and Jacques Louis David in the revolutionary movement.
After the revolution Jacques Louis David would put his artistic skill to help promote Napoleon Bonaparte, a man that Jacques Louis David supported. Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass would be the first painting Jacques Louis David would create for Bonaparte and it depicts the man regally upon a bucking stead but with a steady and calm face. This painting kind display of Bonaparte seems to aim to earn the admiration of the nation’s people as yet another subtle use of art as propaganda.
Art’s use for political purposes resonates even today. Recently with the Obama campaign we saw the contemporary artist Shepard Fairey’s depiction of Obama with the word “HOPE” lining the bottom of the graphic become iconic for the now President elect’s campaign popularity, especially amongst a young audience. Although less subtle in with its propaganda purpose, this unity of art and politics was refined with the works of Jacques Louis David. Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass was Jacques Louis David’s “HOPE” poster for Napoleon Bonaparte. Jacques Louis David forays into mixing art to iconize leaders shapes history even today.