Belisarius was a popular Byzantine general of the Roman Empire whose promising career was sabotaged by the jealous Emperor Justinian I. In 1767, a novel by Jean-François Marmontel revived interest in Belisarius. In Marmontel's novel, the emperor has the heroic general blinded, reducing Belisarius to begging. He is eventually rediscovered and aided by former officers and his family. This dramatic tale of patriotism, injustice, and redemption was widely embraced in revolutionary and post-revolutionary France and was a popular subject for artists--including Jacques-Louis David (François Gérard's teacher), Jean-Antoine Houdon, and Jean-Baptiste Stouf (whose sculpture Belisarius is also in the Museum's collection).
For this painting, Gérard both drew and departed from Marmontel's retelling of Belisarius's life. The general's young companion is present in Marmontel's novel. But to stress the bravery and pathos of the subject, Gérard introduced the incapacitating snakebite. While Belisarius was typically depicted in the act of begging, Gérard shows him standing and erect, his muscular form in sharp contrast to his guide's weakening body. The prominent helmet hanging from Belisarius's belt emphasizes the general's heroic past and underscores the injustice of his fall from favor.
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Artwork in this collection is from The J. Paul Getty Museum. Reproduction rights are reserved by the copyright owner and used under license by Archivea GmbH. .