Tuesday, November 22, 2011


June 2001.
Yes, I’m sure it was June, it was the end of the school’s year and we were all panicking, since in less than one month we will have had to face the final high school exam. Nervous adolescent voices were echoing in the classroom, all of us were there, it was the last art history’s test and not even the most tragic excuse in the world would have been enough not to attend it.
The teacher was smiling at us, she perfectly knew we were anxious and she was devilishly walking from one side of the room to the another, keeping in her hands the papers containing our test, as they were unique example of precious declarations.
A stunning view of my high school
She was very proud of her self, announcing she have personalized each painting’s analysis (this was what the exam was about) referring to her knowledge of us. It had been five years we knew each other and she was sure to have grasped our interests and passions, digging in the very deep of us. We were supposed to describe and critique one piece of art we had discussed in class during the year. She looked very satisfied about her job and she started to distribute the papers.
Just to let you know, the professor was a good one, very prepared and demanding, but at the same time always there for a laud laugh.
With my maximum astonishment, the equivalent of my self in the art world was, from my teacher’s point of view, the Death of Sardanapalus.
Well guys, I don’t know if you have in mind the painting.
It’s an orgy, of violence more than anything else, but still. (with all respect for Delacroix’s genius).
We had just half an hour to analyze the piece of art and I remember that I fought against my self very hardly in order not to explode in a big laugh that would have probably lasted the exam long.
Maybe for this eccentric situation, but The Death of Sardanapalus will always be among my favourite paintings of all times.
Death of Sardanapalus. Delacroix

Delacroix exposed it in 1827 in Paris, where is still at Louvre Museum. (how admirable is France’s skill of keeping its art’s piece in their locus of origin and how miserable is the Italian one of loosing pieces of art and history on the way, letting somebody else collecting them all around the world. Anyway…).
The French artist was inspired by Byron’s play Sardanapalus. Considering the derivation too, it’s easy to note the extreme romanticism of the canvas.
The colours are dense and full-bodied, gold and Bordeaux match perfectly with the jewellery and swordsman. While purple and the warm pink of naked bodies express an excess of richness that will be soon eliminated by a general massacre.
The story is about the last Assyrian king who, realizing his end would have been very close since rebellions were all around his reign, decided to die with all his goods. Taking in consideration the lexicon of that time, he intended to kill all his wife and servants, who were his goods, his possessions.
Delacroix created a masterpiece of turbulence and astonishing chaos. The canvas is an orgy of bodies, most all the time contracted in extreme tension.
For this marvellous composition the painter chose to use a particular technique, known nowadays as vignette. It consists in softening shapes and colours at the edges of the drawing, in order to make the viewer more concentrated on what is going on in the very middle.
Here the vignette was used for the top and for the left side, that’s to accentuate the two scenes both of the centre and the right part.
It’s so easy for the viewer to feel the impotence of the woman who is caught by the men’s violence and not capable of free her self. And as well, the eyes of the beholder can’t help but going to Sardanapalus’s extremely romantic calmness, the stereotypic one of the tantalized man who wisely decided to put an end to his miserable life.
I’m wondering about the stoical attitude shown by a king who is about to give all his possessions and life up.
I remember when I was a teenager I used to be amazed by the romantic myth of sufferance and existential destruction.
It doesn’t have a huge power on my self anymore. Right now I prefer to look at the world through categories such as action and engaged dynamism. Nevertheless, I bet each of us has passed through the glamorous beauty of solitude, where decisions were possible only because taken in our lonely teenager days.
I love this painting, it tells me about how all the luxury can suddenly vanish into nothingness. It describes how the world equilibrium is extremely precarious. One day you are a king, the next one you have nothing.
Delacroix’s choice does belong to the trend of that moment, for which artists were showing their knowledge in term of exoticism. It would have been too daring to choose a national reference but still, the “other” exotic very far was a significant symbolic representation for the national (not too long to come) next chaos. Just a matter of time and  another revolution will have been there. These rebel actions, which were trying to break the power, could be seen as an anticipation of the future that will have changed the world’s stability.
I never thought about analyzing the painting in this way, maybe my art teacher did and I couldn’t see her point. I was trying to find a plausible explanation for her seeing me involved in an orgy…..
I have never acted wantonly....well, from what I remember.

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