The merchant of images: show me and I remember !

ANTIGNA Alexandre (1817 – 1878) 
© Cliché du MBA de Bordeaux – Photo L. Gauthier

« The merchant of images », the artist Antigna Alexandre calls him. The artwork was painted in a time when illiteracy was an issue in France. Especially in the country side, only few kids know how to read and write.

Antigna captures an expressive scene in Brittany of the merchant of images. The merchant is using pictures to illustrate his lessons for children around him. The artist was very successful in drawing an amazing gaze of a child who is eager to learn – the one who is holding a baby.

Most of the kids have their eyes fixed on the picture while the old man is talking. In their posture, they are inclined towards the images as a sign of curiosity and interest. The kind of clothes they are wearing are eluding to the country side.

All the details about the old man are well chosen by the artist. The wrinkles in his cheek and hands are a sign of wisdom and experience. His pale coat with patches and old hat make of him man who has many mysteries and riddles to tells. The long black coat and hat make the viewers think of a sorcerer.  

Antigna surely intends to put more focus on the old man than on the children. Both the man’s hight and his left hand which is held high are a sign of authority through knowledge. 

The artist also draws the kids so close to each other. This highlights the sense of community that still exists in Brittany. I also notice that one of the kids is holding his or her brother/sister and another is holding a basket. Probably, they have stopped to listen and see what the merchant of images have to show on their way to do house errands.  

There is a contradiction of a miserable but educated man that the artist is trying to portray. Antigna illustrates the bright side of misery in her painting – an interesting scene of a teaching and learning moment. Learning is taking place and the kids are fully involved.        

Author : Imad Baazizi

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