The Angelus. Is it true beauty?

My whole life I have been obsessed with the city of love, Paris. My room is filled with Eiffel towers, paintings, and wall art of the Arc de Triomphe. It was a dream come true to visit Paris with my cousin after I graduated high school. It was a typical Saturday afternoon in May pre-Covid 19. The cobblestone streets were filled with tourists, mimes, eager musicians, and struggling artists. My cousin and I were waiting in a jam-packed line, definitely not six feet apart, to get into the Museé d’Orsay. This museum is enormous and stuffed with beautiful famous works of art and sculptures. People filed into the museum like ants on a journey to find food. Myself included, I found that all the tourists were hungry to see as much as they can before the museum closes and hurried through all the exhibits.

One of the pieces that caught my eye in this museum is called The Angelus by Jean-François Millet. While I am one of the people that rushed to see everything, once I came upon this artwork I found myself staring at it for a solid twenty minutes. There was something about it that I just couldn’t figure out and my eyes stayed glued to it. This piece depicts two farmers on a potato field, at night after a long day of work, bowing their heads down. There is a church in the background of the painting which I believed to have been ringing its bells. I interpreted this bowing motion as the farmers giving their praise and thanks to God for the food they gathered and the job they have. This painting is marvelous and it completely manifests all three characteristics of beauty described by Hans-Georg Gadamer.

The painting is beautiful in a playful manner because there are a clear purpose and intention behind it. Gadamer describes this beauty as a movement with a specific purpose. He mentions, “the distinct thing about the human play is its ability to involve our reason” (23). While the painting is not moving, Millet had a clear intention behind the painting and created it with a purpose. While the viewers might not know what Millet’s purpose was, all who view the painting find a different meaning behind it. The artwork has an intention to make the viewers feel something and touch their hearts.

Additionally, this painting is beautiful as a symbol. Gadamer describes that we as humans have a longing for our other half, which is the symbol. We, humans, are halved and we seek to be made whole again. This is present in this painting by Millet. The farmers in the painting long for their other half, God, and show this act by praying to Him when the church bells start ringing. They are not satisfied with their earnings until they give thanks. One of the main points Gadamer expresses is that the symbol both shows and conceals; it veils and unveils at the same time. Art touches everyone differently. For some when they view this painting it will unlock feelings they never knew they felt before. For others, it will trigger a memory, and for a few nothing will happen. But no matter what happens, the viewer can never truly understand 100% of the painting. For this art will unveil itself to the viewer but will also veil itself as no one truly can know the true purpose of the piece. To me, I found this to be very true when I looked at the painting two years ago. I stared and stared and truly tried to understand everything about this work. However, I realized that the more I looked at it, the more possibilities I was coming up with within my head and the more feelings that were touching my heart.

The last type of beauty that Gadamer describes is beauty as festival. For Gadamer, this festivity brings together a community and unites everyone. It is an event that happens in its own time. It establishes a connection and community in a way that reaches every one of every class and educational background (33). I believe that this piece is beautiful in this way as I wasn’t the only one that stopped in their tracks when they viewed it as there were many tourists gathered around this artwork. Eventually, people began to create conversations with others and talk about how they perceived the painting. This frame on the wall brought random strangers from all over the world together and we all became a little community that was united and shared a common interest for twenty minutes.

On the other hand, festive is described a little bit differently by Pieper. According to him, festivity must have a meaning in itself, it is contemplative, and has a religious tie to God. This painting shows that festivity as not only are the two farmers contemplating and praying to God but also the painting brings upon contemplation within the viewer. The painting has a religious tie to it and has a meaning behind it that was intentional by Millet.

While I was reading these papers by Gadamer and Pieper, I began to question how I truly see and understand beauty. After careful consideration, I agree with Gadamer’s claims and have begun to try to be more present with the beauty that God has blessed my life with. Whether that means smiling at sunset or taking my time in a Museum, my perspective on beauty has been altered for the better. From now on I will enjoy and be more present in the art. I will just be there and take everything in instead of rushing around to see it all.



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