La Douce Mélancolie is a 1756 Neo-classical painting by Joseph-Marie Vien (1716). La Douce Mélancolie, translated to Sweet Melancholy, was inspired by the excavation of the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, where painters started to incorporate classical architecture, furniture and costumes in their art. With La Douce Mélancolie, Vien changed his style of painting by incorporating smoother surfaces, finer brush strokes and cooler colours. It also gave way to romantic ideals and style inspiring other artists to follow this phenomenon. Jacques-Louis David, who came to be one of the most well-known Neoclassical painters to date, was mentored by Vien, adapting his mentor’s style.
La Douce Mélancolie is amongst the earliest depictions of Sweet Melancholy, a subject derived from traditional emblems that became very popular in the eighteenth century. Although sorrow may be apparent in the woman’s expression and posture, she however neither appears to be a tragic heroine mindlessly grieving nor a brooding intellect but rather appears to be a sad regretful figure. Perhaps the letter placed on the table is symbolic to what may have brought distress to her, and as romanticism was beginning to be welcomed during the time Vien painted La Douce Mélancolie, we can safely assume it could be of a distant or lost love. The dove, on the other hand, which is universally significant to mean harmony, may represent the sweetness of the scene putting together the given title of the painting. The bland pastel colours of yellow and blue Vien used to paint the fabrics of the woman’s clothes play as an added factor in fueling the somber mood of the painting, along with the soft curvilinear lines drawn to create the painting’s focal point. The contrast between the yellow and blue bring out the focal point as the viewer’s attention is immediately drawn to the woman’s clothing, while the soft yellow shades of the complexion of the woman act as implied lines leading us to the face of the woman. Only after careful study of the woman and her melancholy state do we then divert our attention to the background to examine any evidence that may have resulted to her sad spirit. As we shift we notice the highly styled table with a letter carelessly laid out on it, allowing us to assume a story for the woman. From the white piece of paper to the white flowers beside it, with the colour white acting as implied lines, our attention is reverted back to the woman, her hand specifically as she carefully holds a dove in her hand, which may suggest, as mentioned earlier, the sweetness of her sorrowful state. After deducing what could be and what may be the story of the woman in the painting, are we then only able to indulge in admiring the rest of the painting. Though the wall displays a geometrical architecture design of ancient Rome, the soft blend of smooth surfaces is not lost.
I understand in life, people try to find or rather cling onto anything pleasant, particularly during dire times. In a world moulded with so much hate and pain, even if it may literally be a make believe story or superstition, people will grasp whatever it is to survive, anything to escape even a minute of their agony. People react foolishly in all manners due to desperation, even humiliation to salvage what little glimpse of happiness they thought was taken from them. Everyone is burdened with a past, an eventful situation that caused them to act and think shamelessly, as their minds hopelessly reel before them with a loud warning sign to be quiet, to stay quiet, to gracefully let go what was not meant to be. But regretfully, when it comes to matters of the heart, no one listens to the mind. They are deaf to logic, they become as futile as one holding onto a sympathetic dove hoping for sweet grace in their miserable state of being.
Thus I wonder, are we all still under the impression that Plato may be right about the Greek gods… so determined with the assumption that after our fruitful search of our supposed other half, we are given allowances to lose ourselves into stupidity and childish behaviour when they are taken away? Does it justify all for a mere assumption? A belief, many would call it. But in all honesty, what are we truly certain of this world, anyway?
Extracted from Coelho’s 11 Minutes:
According to Plato, at the beginning of creation, men and women were not the same are they now; there was just one being, who was rather short, with a body and a neck, but his head had two faces, looking in different directions. It was if two creatures had been glued back to back, with two sets of sex, four legs and four arms.
The Greek gods, however, were jealous, because this creature with four arms could work harder, with its two faces, it was always vigilant and could not be taken by surprise; and its four legs meant that it could stand to walk for long periods at a time without tiring. Even more dangerous was the fact that the creature had two different sets of sex organs and so needed no one else in order to continue reproducing.
Zeus, the supreme lord of Olympus, said: ‘I have a plan to make these mortals lose of their strength.’
And he cut the creature in two with a lightning bolt, thus creating man and woman. This greatly increased the population of the world, and at the same time, disoriented and weakened its inhabitants, because now they had to search for their lost half and embrace it and, in that embrace, regain their former strength, their ability to avoid betrayal and the stamina to walk for long periods of time and to withstand hard work.
Human beings were once divided and now seek the embrace that will reunite them. That is our instinct. But it is also our reason for putting up with all the difficulties we meet in that search.
Maybe unconvinced the world has a different plan or maybe uncertain how to be alone again, people hold on. They hold on to imaginary lies or fabricated dreams and let a little of something go one day at a time. Perhaps Time does heal all. But Time has a nasty way of staying still when misfortune approaches. Maybe people seek preservation by finding what would make them, for the lack of a better word, fine at the end of the day, even if it means clutching a symbolic bird in one hand. Perhaps towards the end of day, all I sought was a genuine apologetic admission, “I’m sorry I broke you.”