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Art & Design

A Closer Look: Louis Gauffier

Analytical frameworks are a tool for unpacking and examining an art work using different viewpoints. The VCE Art Study Design describes four frameworks – Formal, Personal, Cultural and Contemporary. When we use the Formal framework, we analyse how the artist has used the elements and principles of art to convey meanings or messages. We examine the use of style, materials and techniques. Using the Personal framework, we explore the artist’s personal situation – how their history, beliefs and influences may be evident in the art work. We can also think about the ways that our own experiences affect how we view the art work. The Cultural framework is the one we use when we are examining the social, cultural and historical factors that surround the artist and that are evident in the art work. When we discuss how current ideas or ways of thinking influence our view of an art work (whether it is a more recent work or one from long in the past) we are using the Contemporary framework. Using the Contemporary framework we also explore how contemporary materials, media and ideas affect our understanding of a work.

Following are examples of how the different frameworks can shape what is written about a particular art work.

Formal Framework

In his painting The family of André-François, Count Miot de Melito (1762-1841), Consul of France to Florence 1796, Louis Gauffier shows the Miot family – three adults and two children – grouped in the interior of their Florentine palazzo. The painting blends portrait and genre painting: it is realistic in style with great attention to the features and clothing of the sitters, but shows the family captured in an everyday scene.

The group is shown mid-movement, all of the figures linked through touch. The children’s uncle entertains the baby; the envoy André-François Miot tousles the older child’s hair with the back of his hand; and the envoy’s wife stares from the painting towards the viewer.

The figures fit within a compositional triangle whose apex is formed by the dome in the painting of the Florentine skyline behind them. One side of the triangle is emphasised by the back of the uncle who leans in to the child, the other by the arm of André-François Miot. A smaller triangle is formed by the trio of Madame Miot and her children.

The dark statue of Minerva and bust of Brutus lend gravitas to the image as if the diplomat and his young family have the might of the Republic behind them. Miot’s red mantle draws the viewer’s eye to him, but he in turn looks to the distance, contemplating the weight of his diplomatic responsibility.

Personal Framework

Painter Louis Gauffier took up study at the French Academy in Rome after winning the Prix de Rome in 1784. He worked in the circle of Jacques-Louis David and remained in Italy for four years. His return to France was marred by the outbreak of the Revolution. With royalist sympathies, he had difficulty in gaining work and was forced to return to Italy where he obtained commissions for landscapes and portraits of aristocrats and diplomats. Gauffier married and had two children who were orphaned when Gauffier died in 1801, three months after his wife, Pauline.

With young children of his own, and with his own fate shaken by the Revolution, Gauffier may have felt empathy for the young Miot family. Certainly, his reputation grew with the production of portraits such as this. He was summoned to Paris by Napoleon’s brother, Lucien, but died before he was able to return.

The family of André-François, Count Miot de Melito, (1762-1841) consul of France to Florence 1795-1796
(La famille d'André-François, comte de Miot de Melito, (1762-1841) consul de France, accrédité à Florence)
oil on canvas on canvas
68.7 x 88.0 cm (image) 69.5 x 89.0 cm (canvas)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Andrew Sisson, 2010

Cultural Framework

In this painting, Gauffier captures much of the spirit of his times. The painting portrays the family of André-François Miot. Miot was appointed Foreign Affairs Commissioner to Florence after Ferdinand II the Grand Duke of Tuscany – in the struggle to save his state and throne from Napoleon – recognised the French Republic and declared Tuscany neutral. The Tuscans, knowing the brutality of the Revolution and Terror, anticipated a man of few manners and little grace, but Miot surprised them with his knowledge of language, dedication and intelligence.

Gauffier shows Miot as the representative and servant of the Republic. He is dressed in the tricolore: blue coat, red mantle and white waistcoat, and his hat sports a cockade (rosette). He stands slightly apart from his family: his brother Jacques-François, his wife Adelaide-Josephine  (dressed in the latest French style) and his two children – son René-Hyacinthe (who was to die at Waterloo) and daughter Rosalie.

The depiction of the affectionate relationships between the family members embodies Enlightenment ideals about the family, which extolled the virtue of warm family ties and close parental involvement in the rearing of one’s children.

Miot stands beside a bust of Lucius Junius Brutus, the founder of the Roman Republic and a powerful Republican symbol. A significant accomplishment of Miot’s career was the armistice arranged between France and the Papal States in 1796. As part of the Papal Concessions, numerous works of art were to be delivered to France from Rome including a number of busts of Brutus. Miot was entrusted with the implementation of the Papal Concessions, which included delivery of the busts.

In the background is Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts and emblem of the new French Republic. From her seat atop the plinth she watches protectively over the Miot family.

Contemporary Framework

The painting shows something of the bonds and tensions in a family whose fortunes ride on the powerful tides of historical change. The ephemeral nature of this moment in their lives is emphasised by the sombre figures of Minerva and Brutus, which speak across the centuries to indicate the ancient values of wisdom, discipline and patriotism.

Though the painting illustrates characters and times past, the situation depicted could easily apply to present times. The natural poses and familiarity between the sitters create the sense that we are glimpsing an unguarded family moment with its familiar dynamics: overworked father, distracted and distant with the burden of work pressures, loving but fatigued mother with lively children, and the fun uncle to provide occasional diversion.

Our knowledge of the events that were yet to transpire when this image was painted – the rise and fall of Napoleon, the changing fortunes of France and her people and the legacy of the Revolution – add poignancy to the image, which is at once a personal and historical document.

Think, Investigate, Create


Formal Framework

What other structures has the artist used in the composition of this work? What is the effect of the use of these structures?

Find other images by Louis Gauffier. Describe features of his artistic style referring to the particular works you have found.

Personal Framework

What ideas does this image evoke for you?

What personal ideas, experiences or knowledge inform your understanding of this painting?

Cultural Framework

What does the style of painting tell us about the time in which the work was made? What else can we tell about the sitters from their clothing and attitude?

Contemporary Framework

What media could be used today to produce a similar family portrait?

What setting, props or costume might be used today to denote the status and history of a family?

Produce a costumed family portrait that includes clues about the achievements and history of your family members.

Educator's Guide