Cultured Wednesday: de Loutherbourg’s Avalanche

Here we have a Franco-British 18-19th century painter who seems to have done a lot more than painting, but we are not going to delve into the wonders of the Eidophusikon (Greek for “image of nature” and a forerunner of the motion picture) or his elaborate set designs for London theaters.  We will not shed any light on his acquaintance with Alessandro Cagliostro, neither will we dig deeper into his interest in the occult or faith-healing.  Lastly, we are not going to have a closer look at what he was most famous for as a painter, namely large naval scenes, although his naval scenes are indeed magnificent.  No, what caught our eye was his depiction of an avalanche.

An Avalanche in the Alps 1803 by Philip James De Loutherbourg 1740-1812
Philip James de Loutherbourg the Younger: An Avalanche, 1803

Philip James de Loutherbourg (31 October 1740 – 11 March 1812) was a painter of the Romantic period, and does not this avalanche painting bear all the marks of Romanticism, dark and light?

Clearly, the painting seems to tell us, Nature has turned against Man, cruel in its indifference and deadly in its overwhelming power.  Man, in the face of the forces of Nature Unleashed, can but appeal to the Creator to spare him this time, and then run and save his skin as best as he can, much like the beasts of the forest and Man’s best friend, the dog, only we can reasonably doubt their ability to appeal to the Creator.

Philipp_Jakob_Loutherbourg_d._J._avalanche - Edited (1)

The romantic Man, however, can also do otherwise.  Witnessing Nature’s incredible strength and terrible beauty, Man can marvel, if he dares, and grow in stature and character in the process.  Looking Death in the face, staring into the abyss, or in this case the avalanche, even challenging Nature with reckless courage – this, too, is Man.

Philipp_Jakob_Loutherbourg_d._J._avalanche - Edited.jpg

How much more romantic can you get?


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