The diva film used the trope of painting as well as that of theater to disclose ambivalent responses to technological modernity in Italy. In Madame Tallien (as well as in "La Donna Nuda", "Il Quadro di Osvaldo Mars" or...展开" Il Fuoco"), painting is primarily about the relation between artist and model. This approach invokes the story of Pygmalion, the sculptor who fell in love with his own beautiful statue. In "Madame Tallien", the canvas belongs to Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, the female artist at the court of Marie Antoinette. This historical character is showin painting the Marquise Teresia de Fontenay, played by Lyda Borelli. From Vigée Le Brun's memoirs, we learn that her sister eventually became known as Madame Tallien and that her beauty rivaled that of Madame Récamier.
Not only is it unusual in the genre of the diva film to see a female artist, but in this historical drama by Enrico Guazzoni (1976-1949), based on a play by Sardou, Borelli's character switches from model to painter when Teresia is shown at home painting a landscape. The revolution roams the streets and the countryside; it is safer for Teresia to work from memory instead of painting en plein air. In this film, painting is aligned with the royalists and used as a kind of mask on the wall. An oval portrait with a gilded frame covers the entrance to a secret tunnel leading to an unknown area of the house; there Borelli hides her secret lover, Jean Guérin. He is "the unattainable royalist" whom the implacable Robespierre chases all over Paris.
While Robespierre's troops search Teresia's home, a soldier stabs the painting, thus calling attention to the antithesis between the paintbrush of the elite and the knife of the masses. In this sense the popular medium of cinema is closer to the guillotine than to the canvas. Yet Guazzoni takes a much more conservative position, since he uses Madame Tallien's historical reputation as "Our Lady of Good Help" to argue that forgiveness is better than execution. In fact, Borelli's heroine became famous for her ability to save many royalists from death by pleading with her husband. Monsieur Tallien, a leader of the Revolution. The French Revolution was characterized by extreme violence[...].