Following the Terror in France (1793–4) stoic scenes from Greek and Roman history palled and gave way to more intimate depictions of private life, as in this portrait of a prominent French official. In November 1794 the moderate Thermidorean government appointed André-François Miot as representative of the new French Republic in Florence, which had been declared neutral by the Austrian Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinand III. Key to Miot’s success was finding acceptance in this society where revolutionaries were widely perceived as savages. Miot later described in his memoirs his determination to undo this stereotype through personal example. Well-read and multilingual, he sought out Florence’s artistic and literary circles, where he met his countryman, Louis Gauffier, a well-known portrait and landscape painter.
In accordance with Miot’s aims, Gauffier has painted Miot (far right) wearing a combination of contemporary and Antique costume, in the red, white and blue of the French tricolore. A revolutionary cockade adorns his hat. A rhythm of caressing touches link Miot to his children, wife, and brother, who are fashionably dressed in the Directory style and disposed across the composition in the manner of an Antique frieze, before a view of Florence’s skyline. In 1796 Miot earned renown as the broker of a truce between warring France and the Papal States. Here Gauffier has portrayed Miot as a defender of family harmony, with a proper appreciation of the beauties of his host city.
Text by Sophie Matthiesson © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia