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Delacroix, The Death of Sardanapalus

Video transcript

we're in the Louvre and we're looking at doula caused the death of sardanapalus which was exhibited at the salon of 1827 it's a huge canvas and it turns every classical rule on its head including the idea of having a painting with a hero here we have sardanapalus who is anything but a hero this is the height of romantic painting and in fact its story comes from a Romantic poet Lord Byron and it's a story of this Assyrian King sardanapalus who is being vanquished in battle but rather than surrender has decided not only to kill himself he's going to destroy everything that he finds pleasure in the women his slaves all of his ornament all of his treasure will be burned everything will come to an end so this is a giant funerary pyre so he sits high up on that bed propping his head up looking with supreme indifference at the end of the lives of the women in his life the end of all of his beautiful possessions so this is a painting that is about corruption and it is the antithesis of the nobility of dahveed and of the neoclassical tradition that came before romanticism if you think back to neoclassical paintings with their very rigorous construction of space where you can really clearly see where everything is in relationship to everything else here we have a space that's just full of objects all of the kings really luxurious possessions gold and jewels and horses and the space isn't so much constructed as filled up and it feels like everything in it all the bodies the horses the objects they're all flames themselves we're calling the flame that it's about to be there licking up in the serpentine curvilinear forms so look at the horse for instance which is practically an S shape look at one of the arms of the harp that's in the bottom middle or the women themselves these arabesques you can look at the scarf at the bottom of the bad all of these things are snake-like in serpentine as if they themselves are the flames that are referenced so there's all of the sense of writhing movement but the king at the top who sits very still and watches with that corrupt gaze on this bed that's foreshortened and so we have this idea of everything spilling down into our space very much the artists intention to engage the viewer and to appeal to our emotions the woman in the foreground is being brutally murdered right before our eyes the horse is being pulled against its will to a funeral pyre this is a scene of death and destruction that's happening as close as possible to the viewer space this must have been such a huge shock to a public that was used to looking at the clarity and precision of geometry the rationalism the heroism of a neoclassical all of this violence all of this luxury is perfectly suited to Delacroix's signature use of brilliant color at least in contrast to the kind of modulation of color that the very subtly colored paintings that were traditional in the salon but if you look at the flesh of the figures we don't see just that normal tonal modeling that we've come to expect in neoclassical paintings but we see figures where the shadows are greens and blues and highlights are oranges and goals Dilek was really thinking about color in a much more emotional and passionate way this painting really is an orgy of violence it's an orgy of luxury and it's an orgy of corruption