During the years after 1789, Abildgaard is absorbed by the fundamental ideals of the French Revolution and becomes enormously politically involved. His role model is the ancient Greek philosopher and social critic Diogenes, who, from his home – a barrel –chastised high and low with his wit and his sarcastic comments.
Restrictions on freedom of expression
Both in paintings and a number of satirical drawings, Abildgaard expresses his revolutionary sympathy and eagerness for reform. From 1799, freedom of expression was limited, however, and publishing allegories was prohibited. Cryptic messages were considered problematic by the powers that be.
Temple of Fortune
Oil on screen with tin plating, composed of rectangular pieces
National History Museum at Frederiksborg Castle.
The narrative of the goddess Fortuna, who in her temple arbitrarily and capriciously determines the fate of men, unites two aspects of Abildgaard’s political expression. On one hand there is the world of the inverted, the satire, that mocks the holders of power and the meaning-makers. On the other hand, the two pillars, in the form of women, provide an exalted display of wisdom and justice. But wisdom is blinded and justice has lost her scale, so human destiny is under the absolute rule of the monarchy by chance.
Diogenes and the dog
Diogenes was one of the most leading representatives of cynicism in ancient philosophy, a branch of thought that took its name after the Greek word for dog- kyne. Diogenes kept society at a distance and had only scorn for men of power and social and cultural codes. Abildgaard’s cynicism is expressed through several images in which the dog represents the cynical artist and a symbol of his position in society.