Represenative of Gustave Courbet's work is A Burial at Ornans which portrays a stark funeral set in a provencial landscape. Courbet has set the scene of the burial of a small child in his home town of Ornans and at first glance it appears to a general depiction. However, Courbet's purpose is to express his feelings that the lower class is just as important as the upper class and deserve attention. This attitude was prevalent in many literary works of the day, in particular the novels of Balzac and Gustave Flaubert.

While an officious vicar reads the Office of the Dead, those present gather in groups around the open grave their faces showing various degrees of emotions. Even though the painting has the monumental scale of a traditional history painting, comtemporary critics were appalled by both the commonplace and the bluntly anti-heroic composition. Arranged in an S-shaped extending across the canvas, groups of mourners are displayed--the somberly clad women at the back right, a half circle of like men at the grave opening, and a variety of clergymen. The viewers focus, however, is wholly on the flat surface of the figures, at eye level, that blocks any view into deep space. (Several figures are indeed potraits of Courbet's friends) In the background are barren cliffs under stretches of overcast skies and the fresh grave opens into the observer's face in the centermost foreground.

Courbet's painting also shows that the Catholic Church is not the most Holy place, but that God exists everywhere. The crucifixion is out in it's proper place on the hiilside in the background, as well as, put into the hand of a small child. This is a deliberate optical illusion by the artist to make it seem like its in two places at once so the viewer can realize the illusion after they have made their own interpretations about its meaning. This angered the Church greatly because the painting had the potential to cause a damaging blow to the foundations of the Church by the intentional interpretation of God being everywhere, not only in the Church. This is most likely the reason Courbet's work was banned because the Catholic Church had originally established the French Academy founded by Cardinal de Richelieu in 1635 as an institution for the study of higher learning.

Some figures are cut off at the edges of the canvas and may be due to Courbet's interest in photography. The narrow and long rectangle of the canvas is effectively panoramic where the viewer's eye cannot take in the whole group at once. Only drab facts of the undramatized life and death --the heroic, the sublime, and the terrible are not found here.

Champfleury writes about A Burial at Ornans

" represents a small-town funeral and yet reproduces the funerals of all small towns."

Differing greatly from the superhuman or subhuman actors on the grand stage of the Romantic canvas, this Realist piece moves according to the ordinary rhythms of live and death.


Lometa. "Artists and Art in the Classroom" Tucson, Arizona.
1994. (Lecture presented at St Joseph's Catholic School.)

Justus, Kevin. "Art and Culture II." Tucson , Arizona.
1992. (Lecture presented at Pima Community College.)

De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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