Art and politics have always had a close relationship. To understand the significance of this relationship, in the perspective of the fall of the “divine empire”, I will make a chronological foray into the history of art, and present de facto the attempts of the contemporary leaders to preserve the link with the divine, in order to better establish their authority.
Medieval pictorial art is almost exclusively religious. The sacredness of a painting is represented, (through a golden background, as symbol of impermissibility, and the absence of facial expression), as being timeless and aspatial. Jesus Christ has no human impulses, his face is frozen in timelessness, denoting his unshakeable divine essence. Its representation is devoided of any volume, of any three-dimensionality, the association with human reality being avoided as much as possible, in order to clearly differentiate the divine nature from the human nature (Fig. 1).
But Christ's consubstantiality becomes a political instrument, because it gives the sovereigns the ideal pretext to legitimize their position, and thus, they remain human, but of divine right. For example, France was, until 1789 (date of the first French revolution), a monarchy of divine right, which means that the king owed his crown only to the will of God. Louis XIV embodied in his time, and even for the posterity, the figure of the king of divine right, as his portrait, produced by Hyacinthe Rigaud, highlights it:
It is a theatrical representation, a staging of absolute power, confirmed by the column supporting the composition, a column which extends beyond the frame and which not only gives verticality to the painting, but which, by this extension, brings the king closer to the divinity. This column is also a symbol of power and stability. Louis XIV, then 63 years old and weakened by illness, appears as a strong, impassive man of incorruptible integrity, a hypothesis confirmed by the embossment located at the bottom of the column, representing Themis, the goddess of justice. In addition, the cross of the order of the Holy Spirit recalls the faith of the king and the religious heritage that the generations of his family had bequeathed to him. The ancient Christianity-polytheism syncretism is a device for strengthening the legitimacy of the king of divine order.
In the art history, gradually, however, the sanctity of the icons became less important, with Renaissance artists becoming more interested in the technicality of the composition at the detriment of symbolics (see Fig. 3). Masaccio replaces the gilding with a first attempt to represent perspective. Thus, the fresco is a place which expresses the artist's savoir-faire, in his quest for mimetic perfection, and which marks a break with the divine omnipotence.
Almost a century later, Paolo Farinati (1524-1606) painted the Christ, Man of Sorrows. The artist operates a demystification, the Christ becomes not only "a man" in the title, but also a man in the representation: he is vulnerable, fragile, in the grip of fear and doubt.
Yet these representations are subtle, and they manifest themselves in a climate of changing ideas, where intellectuals turn to philosophy and abandon religious mysticism. Nevertheless, this change will not have a major impact on the power of the Church and of absolutist states, the masses being equally subject to omnipotent sovereignty, as Montesquieu notes in his Persian letters, published in the 18th century:
Besides, this king [the king of France] is a great magician: he exercises his empire over the very minds of his subjects; he makes them think as he wants. […] What I say about this prince should not surprise you: there is another magician stronger than him, who is no less master of his mind than he himself is of that of the other. This magician is called the Pope.
The 21st century is part of the secular continuity of the delegitimization of religion. Jessy Darling realizes a contemporary Virgin Mary, a torn up, literally and figuratively, woman-man, a fallen being, from whom the artist has taken away the sacredness and the human appearance, corrupted by monstrosity.
In a context where all the efforts of art are directed towards the suppression of the divine power, the 21st century politics attempt to use the same tools of divine order to justify themselves. French newspapers such as Le Point or Marianne present the President Macron as a monarch by divine right, because on one side, he is perceived as a “Jupiter”, a Roman god ruling the earth, the sky and all beings (see Fig.6), and on the other side, he is inscribed, by his outfit and wig, in the royal French tradition (see Fig. 7). The status of Jupiterian president is not attributed to Macron subjectively, but this status stems from the words of the president himself, who demanded this function even before being in power (see sources: Challenges 2017, see sources).
Although the United States have never known a monarchy of divine right, Donald Trump’s politics seem to easily align with this stance. If the president is not interested in artistic expression, he promotes a rhetoric loaded with religious connotations and semantics. While on treatment for Covid-19, Donald Trump stated, regarding the luck that he has been having with therapy, that this “looks like miracles coming down from God.” But maybe this is just a coincidence, yet how many occurrences can we put under the sign of coincidence? Is then the title of Ann Coulter's book, In Trump we trust - E pluribus awesome, a form of respect for the former president, or a subversive instrumentalization of the national mottos "In God we trust- E pluribus unum" (Latin for One from many), subliminally hiding the deliberate consubstantiality of a president with an ambivalent nature? (see Fig. 8). Is the empire of the divine fallen into disuse, or it is still expressed through stratagems, not always obvious, in our contemporary societies? Are we completely safe from manipulation, or demiurgic transcendence remains our weak point?
Challenges.fr, “Macron Ne Croit Pas ‘Au Président Normal, Cela Déstabilise Les Français’” (ChallengesOctober 16, 2016) https://www.challenges.fr/election-presidentielle-2017/interview-exclusive-d-emmanuel-macron-je-ne-crois-pas-au-president-normal_432886 accessed March 12, 2021
KHOU 11, “Breaking: President Trump Releases Video Message While at Walter Reed Medical Center” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FJ7ZxjheYU&ab_channel=KHOU11 accessed March 12, 2021