Jean Broc, The School of Apelles

Jean Broc, <i>The School of Apelles</i>

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Title: The school of Apelles.

Author : BROC Jean (1771 - 1850)

Creation date : 1800

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 375 - Width 480

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage place: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Raux

Picture reference: 06-529648 / RF27

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Raux

Publication date: December 2008

Historical context

The Salon of 1800 is the last of the XVIIIe century and yet it is the one that presents the most artistic novelties. Paulin Duqueylar painted a Singing Ossian (Granet museum, Aix-en-Provence) which puts off critics by the rawness of its colors and the novelty of the subject. Jean Broc, David's pupil and Duqueylar's workshop friend, reveals The School of Apelles at this Show and receives an incentive award. Contemporary critics fail to grasp the significance of Broc's work.

Image Analysis

In an architecture inspired by ancient and Renaissance models, but also by its master (the three arches implicitly refer to those of the Oath of the Horatii), Broc features Apelles, Alexander the Great's most talented painter, and his students. Unlike his contemporaries, who use warm colors, the painter seeks to rediscover the freshness of ancient colors and 15th century frescoes.e century, in accordance with the subject presented. Showing his talent for carrying out academies, he gave life to many young people, dispersed in groups or alone. Each character is a study in itself. These different attitudes refer to the ideal Beauty. In a classical culture where Antiquity was set up as an absolute model, the school of Apelles became an example for young painters. Broc also marks a clear change from his master by the strong chiaroscuro of the foreground. He depicts Apelles showing his students a drawing, the Apelles slander, then attributed to Raphaël. This drawing represents an episode in which a painter, jealous of the talent of his rival, Apelles, accuses him of treason. To defend himself from his detractors, Apelles executes a painting in which an innocent man is dragged along by Slander, Envy and Repentance. This emblematic example of Calumny, represented by Sandro Botticelli or Albrecht Dürer, is taken up by Broc, through Raphael. The artist of 1800 does not seek to represent slander in itself, at first glance, but uses the place of learning, the studio, to bring it to everyone's view. Broc succeeds in an anachronistic mise en abyme, which depicts an ancient artist explaining a drawing by Raphael, a Renaissance artist.


This painting within a painting has not been fully appreciated by critics, no doubt because of its poor location in the Salon. The choice of this subject by Broc can be explained on the one hand by the tastes of the Primitives in art and on the other hand by the criticisms that David made of Broc. The master thought that Broc was a colourist who did not care enough about drawing. And above all he said that he should not "[get into the mind that he is a Raphael". The painting is understood as a pictorial manifesto of the Primitive group, which illustrates both a caesura with the classicism of David and the will not to be seen as a dissident: it is an open and personal rebellion in the face of his master of a group that wants to be legitimate.

Jean Broc’s painting is the symbol of a change in art; the utopian ideas of the Revolution were transmitted to the generation of David's workshop at the end of the 1790s. The freshness of the colors and the originality of the Broc touch made his style noticed by several artists, including Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, his former workshop mate. In accordance with the novelty of the French political situation, Broc, who shows a slandered character, would he also refer to Napoleon and his questionable power? In any case, Broc joined at the very end of the XVIIIe century in a spirit of creation, seeking to break any link with the recent past and with the desire to assert itself as modern, through the novelty of the subject.

  • neoclassicism
  • portrait
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • Primitives


Étienne DELÉCLUZE, Louis David, son école et son temps, 1855, reprint Paris, Macula, 1983.George LEVITINE, “The School of Apelles by Jean Broc: un“ primitif ”au Salon de l'An VIII” in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, n ° 80, November 1972.George LEVITINE, The Dawn of Bohemianism: The Barbu Rebellion and Primitivism in Neoclassical France, University Park, London and Pennsylvania, 1978.

To cite this article

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