Pierre-Paul Prud'hon: La sagesse et la vérité descendent sur la terre et les tenebres qui la couvrent se dissipent à leur approche, ca. 1799, Öl auf Leinwand, 366 cm (Durchmesser). Inv. Nr. 7341, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures, Paris
Pierre Paul Prud'hon makes use of his typical soft drawing techniques as he lets Minerva, the embodiment of Wisdom, and "naked" Truth hover together in the diffuse light of dawn in heaven's boundless expanse. The shadowy forms of Error and Iniquity flee into the darkness. Far away beneath these allegorical figures we can make out the terrestrial globe, on which in large letters the word 'FRANCE' can barely be discerned.
A model for this couple, who seldom appear together iconographically, can be found in a 1715 engraving by L. Desplaces after A. Coypel. Here, Minerva has banished Error and Stupidity, so that Truth can reveal itself to humankind. Prud'hon found orientation for his drawing style in the 'sfumato' paintings of Leonardo and Correggio, whose works he saw in Paris, and also in Italy during his four-year scholarship in Rome (1784-1788). The artist uses black and white chalk to draw on blue laid paper, which corresponds to the twilight mood. He uses only a few lines to give the figures volume, and works instead with the effects produced by rubbed areas.
As a characteristic example of French art at the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, Prud'hon's drawing mirrors the intellectual and political situation that marked the transition between the Revolution and the Empire. In order to give credible expression to an ideological statement, hope in the new Republic, in a picture that could be comprehended through the senses, he chose a classical subject which attracted considerable attention through its appealing adaptation of the design. With this suggestive imagery, 'La Sagesse et la Vérité' asserted itself as the opposite position to the rigorous, neoclassical doctrine of history painting as practised by artists like Jacques-Louis David and as a herald of French Romanticism. The drawing won awards in 1795 and Prud'hon was commissioned to execute a correspondingly decorative ceiling painting. Only marginally modified and ten times larger, the composition can be found today in the collection of the Musée du Louvre.