Monday, August 04, 2008
Eugene Delacroix, The Death of Sardanapcilus 1827
The subject of death, which had been previously treated by the Neoclassicists as a moment of universal nobility and the enduring triumph of human spirit, became for the Romantics an artistic device for the expression of individual tragedy. The same themes that had been illustrated by David or Canova had now become tinged with a certain darkness and began to operate not as inevitable occasions for nationalistic heroism, but as realizations of a new vision of mortality and time. Scenes of death became entropic analogies for disintegration and decay, particularly seen in the despairing figures favored by Gericault and Delacroix. The artists of the Romantic movement imagined the past as an organic and changing flux of dynamic disequilibrium rather than continue the static and crystalline monumentality of Neoclassical pictorialism. The Death of Sardanapcilus, which illustrates mythical antiquity with a characteristic lush and seductive detail, is similar in mood to that evoked by Gustave Flaubert's novel Salammbo (1862), set in ancient Carthage of the third century BC. Here Delacroix expresses the relentless certainty of man's progress towards death despite the opulence and magnitude of his material possessions; his use of sumptuous decoration is but a thin veneer that conceals the inevitable and unstoppable processes of time and tragedy. Eros will always be consumed by Thanatos. At the time the painting was sharply criticized for its rejection of French classicism in both subject matter and style, not the least in its bold and dynamic treatment of color.
Posted by Jacques de Beaufort at 4:24 PM