The Ossian myth

The Ossian myth


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  • Ossian unites Oïna-Morul and Thormod.

    FRANQUELIN Jean-Auguste (1798 - 1839)

  • Ossian evokes ghosts to the sound of the harp.

    GERARD, Baron François (1770 - 1837)

  • The apotheosis of the French heroes who died for their country during the War for Liberty.

    GIRODET DE ROUCY TRIOSON Anne Louis (1767 - 1824)

To close

Title: Ossian unites Oïna-Morul and Thormod.

Author : FRANQUELIN Jean-Auguste (1798 - 1839)

School : Romanticism

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 22 - Width 19

Technique and other indications: oil painting; cardboard; canvas; materials glued to each other

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 95DE20795 / RF 2964

Ossian unites Oïna-Morul and Thormod.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

To close

Title: Ossian evokes ghosts to the sound of the harp.

Author : GERARD, Baron François (1770 - 1837)

School : Romanticism

Creation date : 1800

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 180.5 - Width 198.5

Technique and other indications: Painting formerly known as "The return" Oil on canvas

Storage location: National Museum of Malmaison Castle website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet web site

Picture reference: 86EE5321 / MM 67-3-1

Ossian evokes ghosts to the sound of the harp.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

To close

Title: The apotheosis of the French heroes who died for their country during the War for Liberty.

Author : GIRODET DE ROUCY TRIOSON Anne Louis (1767 - 1824)

School : Romanticism

Creation date : 1801

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 34 - Width 29

Technique and other indications: Painting also known as "The shadows of French heroes received by Ossian in the Elysee Palace" Oil on canvas

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 95DE20799 / RF 2359

The apotheosis of the French heroes who died for their country during the War for Freedom.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: October 2005

Video

The Ossian myth

Video

Historical context

In 1761, the young poet James MacPherson published Fingal, an epic which, according to him, was composed by Ossian, Scottish bard of the IIIe century of our era. Although controversies quickly erupted over the authenticity of the epic, a wave of "Ossianophilia" is sweeping across Europe.

The Ossian world is a great source of inspiration for writers and painters at the dawn of Romanticism, as the paintings on display testify.

Image Analysis

The Europe of classicism knew of itself only from Greco-Latin cultural sources. With the publication of the epic songs attributed to Ossian begins a vast movement of discovery of another cultural heritage, inherited from the "barbarian" ancestors of Europeans, the Celts, Germans and Vikings.

Fingal and the epic Temora published by MacPherson in 1763 are presented as a Iliad and an Odyssey Caledonian, and the blind bard Ossian who accompanies himself with a Celtic harp like a Norse Homer. These epics do not only sing about the warlike exploits of valiant heroes: there is also an exaltation of misty landscapes and tormented skies, an expression of the feeling of love that matches the sensitivity of the 18th century.e century ending and announce romanticism.

Werther, the hero of Goethe's novel, declares that "Ossian has replaced Homer in his heart" and that he discovers with delight "the walks on the moor swept by the storm wind which leads in the mists and under the dark light. of the moon the spirits of the ancestors ”.

Like Werther, European youth developed a passion for the Ossian epics. One of the greatest Ossianophiles is Napoleon Bonaparte. He ordered several paintings on the themes of the epics from Gérard, Girodet and Ingres to decorate his apartments or those of Joséphine.

While the principles of composition are still very classic, we see a new aesthetic emerging (vaporous folds, phantasmagorical figures and stormy skies) prefiguring the romantic style. Through the reference to Ossian, the passage from Greco-Latin history and mythology to Celtic references takes place, which can be found for example in The Martyrs de Chateaubriand (of which the priestess Velléda evokes the Ossianesque virgins).

The most astonishing of these paintings is the one which brings Bonaparte and his officers directly into the epic. It's called Ossian receiving the French heroes. Girodet, who painted this painting for the dining room at Malmaison, gave him a long explanatory comment. We learn that the eagle fled before the rooster which symbolizes "the Genius of France" and that Ossian kisses Desaix while Kleber extends a hand to Fingal, the warrior son of Ossian, as a sign of alliance. Generals Dampierre, Dugommier, Championnet, Joubert, Desaix, etc., without forgetting the First Consul, appear on the table ...

Interpretation

MacPherson’s publications played a fundamental role in the shift to the Romantic aesthetic. They have inspired literary creations all over Europe, and particularly in Germany, referring to popular songs and poems, such as the famous ballad Lenore by Gottfried Bürger. As a result, the publications of epics reconstituted from collections of popular songs, such as the Finnish Kalevala (published by Elias Lönnrot in 1835) or the Armorican epic of Barzaz-Breiz (published in 1839 by Théodore Hersart de La Villemarqué).

The Celtomania engendered by the Ossian epics gave rise to the creation under the Empire, in 1805, of the Celtic Academy, a learned society which wanted to find in popular culture the vestiges of the beliefs of "our ancestors the Gauls". On this occasion, the first ethnographic questionnaire on popular customs and traditions in France was sketched.

  • myth
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • romanticism
  • Chateaubriand (François-René de)
  • Freedom

Bibliography

COLLECTIVE, The Legend of Ossian illustrated by Girodet, catalog of the exhibition of the same name organized by the museums of Montargis, Montargis, Musée Girodet, 1988.

Denise GLUCK, "Ossian and Ossianism", in Yesterday for tomorrow, arts, tradition and heritage, catalog of the Grand Palais exhibition, Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1980.

Paul VAN THIEGHEM, Ossian in France, Paris, Rieder, 1917.

To cite this article

Anne-Marie THIESSE, "The Myth of Ossian"


Video: Samuel Johnson, the Ossian Fraud and the Celtic Revival in Great Britain and Ireland


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