In William-Adolphe Bouguereau's 1878 painting A Soul Brought to Heaven, the artist demonstrates the depths of his compositional skill, fine-tuned at the most respected academies of late-nineteenth century Europe. With an intimate and personal knowledge of the Renaissance masters, the figurative painting upon a Biblical theme is a moving interpretative reproduction of the frescoes of Raphael as well as poignant evocation of loss in Bouguereau's own personal life.
After gaining the respect and acceptance of the Academy, reaching the status of Life Member at the age of 51, Bouguereau became a figure of charity and equality, teaching at the independent Ecole des Beaux-Arts that demanded no entrance exams and charging only very basic fees. However, tragedy struck in 1877 when Bouguereau's wife and young son died. A Soul Brought to Heaven is without doubt an evocation of the recently deceased, his fervent hope in their salvation and his belief in a future reunion in heaven.
Reminiscent of the cathedral paintings of the Renaissance, Bourgureau had honed his talent decorating private houses, buildings, and churches, often conforming to the classical style which his commissioners demanded. Thus, A Soul Brought to Heaven is a gentle tug of war between the conformity of the Academy and the yearning of a recently aggrieved husband and father.
Clearly not depicting a particular member of his family, the felt presence of grief permeates the painting. The tumultuous skies over the heads of the ascending angels signals a disquiet that emerges from the heavens and from the painter himself. The anger at the death resonates in the speed and care with which the angels bring the soul to the afterlife. In the bottom corner of the painting the touching reproduction of a parting bouquet of flowers, perhaps offered on earth, adds further poignancy to the canvas.
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