The Riverbend neighborhood's Burthe Street epitomizes the area's sedate, leafy aura on its 14-block stretch from the fitness center at Leake Avenue by the Mississippi River levee to the Tulane Muslim Student Association at Audubon Street. Its obscure allure is appreciated by those of us who live nearby, but its newly revealed connection to the glory days of the Paris Salon was unexpected.
The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) purchased Leopold Burthe’s newly rediscovered painting, "Angelique" (pictured), which shines a new light on the street's time-shrouded namesake, Dominique Francois Burthe, the artist's wealthy father.
Like many children of affluent local French families, Leopold, born in 1823, was educated in Paris. There he fell under the spell of French art star Jean-August-Dominique Ingres, whose influence infuses the virtuoso rendering of Burthe's "Angelique." Ingres even painted a related canvas, “Angelica Saved by Ruggiero,” also based on the 16th-century Italian poem, “Orlando Furioso” by Ludovico Ariosto.
Ingres’ version is a literal view of a white knight rescuing his beloved heroine in bondage, but Burthe's version is more psychological. Instead of a classic white knight, Burthe's rescuing hero is a shadowy figure emerging from dark clouds, and if Ingres’ heroine seems to be rapturously awaiting her hero, Burthe's heroine appears unsure, or as the unnamed author of a Zurich, Switzerland gallery's description of the painting put it, she seems “resistant” to both the threat of sea monsters and the approaching knight.
Both Ingres and Burthe depict the knight astride a hippogriff, a mythic hybrid of a horse and an eagle, but Burthe's version looks more like a dragon.
Burthe's masterpiece, which was exhibited at the 1852 Paris salon, seems like a precursor to the work of 20th-century fantasy artist Frank Frazetta as well as the imagery of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons and the “Game of Thrones” TV series – which gives one a lot to ponder while wandering on Burthe Street.
NOMA, 1 Collins C. Diboll Circle, (504) 658-4100; www.noma.org.
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