The Open University since 2006
Alternatively you can skip the navigation by pressing 'Enter'.
Thinking Allowed 2016: A special programme on Pierre BourdieuMonday, 27th June 2016 00:15 - BBC Radio 4This special episode of Thinking Allowed explores the ideas of French socialist Pierre Bourdieu. Read more: Thinking Allowed 2016: A special programme on Pierre Bourdieu
Genius of the Modern World: NietzscheAvailable until Friday, 29th July 2016 00:00Bettany Hughes takes us on an exploration of Friedrich Nietzsche's life and works. Read more: Genius of the Modern World: Nietzsche
The Big C & Me: Episode 2Available until Sunday, 24th July 2016 02:05
The Big C & Me: Episode 3Available until Friday, 22nd July 2016 23:55
Thinking Allowed 2016: A special programme on Pierre BourdieuAvailable for over a year
The UK votes out; the EU shrinks; the world reactsReaction from academics around the planet as UK voters elect to leave the E Read more: The UK votes out; the EU shrinks; the world reacts
Genius of the Modern WorldIn this three-part OU/BBC co-production for BBC Four, Bettany Hughes explores the life and works... Watch now: Genius of the Modern World
Grammar mattersGrammar matters because, combined with vocabulary choice, it is our main way of making meaning.... Try: Grammar matters now
Forensic psychologyIn this free course, Forensic psychology, you will discover how psychology can help obtain... Try: Forensic psychology now
In this free course, Delacroix, you will be introduced to a variety of Delacroix's work and will see how his paintings relate to the cultural transition from Enlightenment to Romanticism. You will study Delacroix's early career, his classical background, the development of Romantic ideas and their incorporation into his work. You will have the opportunity to study some of his most important paintings and compare them to works favouring a Neoclassical approach. You will also be able to see how his themes, subjects and style were influenced by Romantic ideas, the exotic and the Oriental. Through this you will develop an understanding of the classicRomantic balance that shows how his work was influenced by cultural change of that period and to some extent contributed to the progression from Enlightenment to Romanticism.
After studying this course, you should be able to:
- identify those aspects of Delacroix’s art that qualify it as ‘Romantic’
- understand the interplay between classicism and Romanticism in Delacroix’s art
- appreciate the nature of Delacroix’s fascination with the Oriental and the exotic even before he visited Morocco.
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Overview
- 2 The Death of Sardanapalus
- Current section: 2.1 Inspiration for the Death of Sardanapalus
- 2.2 Sardanapalus – subject and composition
- 2.3 A passionate reaction
- 2.4 Controversial colour and composition – exercise
- 2.5 Neoclassical – the established style
- 2.6 An alternative deathbed tradition
- 2.7 Interpreting the classical form
- 2.8 Colour and light – exercise
- 2.9 Painterly techniques
- 2.10 Colour versus line
- 2.11 Birth of the ‘Romantic’
- Current section:
- 3 Delacroix – classic or Romantic?
- 3.1 A classical education
- 3.2 The influence of Géricault and Gros
- 3.3 A Baroque influence
- 3.4 Neoclassical and the Baroque – a delicate balance
- 3.5 The Barque of Dante – innovation within tradition
- 3.6 Massacres of Chios – challenging the establishment
- 3.7 Massacres of Chios – a critical stir
- 3.8 Transcending the Romantic-classic divide
- 3.9 Delacroix’s early career – exercise
- 4 The Romantic artist and the creative process
- 5 Romantic themes and subjects in Delacroix’s art
- 5.1 Sardanapalus – a disconcerting subject
- 5.2 Sardanapalus – passion and futility
- 5.3 The popular Gothic
- 5.4 A taste for the grotesque
- 5.5 The Gothic, the grotesque and artistic expression
- 5.6 Modernity – challenging tradition
- 5.7 Extremes of modernity
- 5.8 Delacroix’s modernity – the historical context
- 5.9 A reaction to the bourgeois establishment
- 5.10 Features of French Romantic art and artists – exercise
- 6 The Oriental and the exotic
- 7 Conclusion
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
2 The Death of Sardanapalus
2.1 Inspiration for the Death of Sardanapalus
Plate 1 is a reproduction of Delacroix’s The Death of Sardanapalus, believed to have been completed sometime between November 1827 and January 1828.
Click to see Plate 1: Eugène Delacroix,The Death of Sardanapalus
It draws on a legend, fabricated in the Persika by the Greek writer Ksetias (fourth century BCE), that had already featured in a play by Byron entitled Sardanapalus, published in 1821. It concerns an Assyrian ruler whose palace was threatened by his rebellious subjects. Sardanapalus, descendant of Semiramis, was the last king of Nineveh, a city roughly halfway between the Mediterranean and the Caspian Sea in present-day Iraq. According to the legend, he died in 876 BCE. In order to avoid the humiliation of defeat by his subjects (a theme that would have evoked, in Delacroix’s era, the revolutionary mob), he ordered himself, his palace and all his prized possessions (including his favourite concubine, Myrrha) to be burned and destroyed. In Delacroix’s version, unlike Byron’s, Sardanapalus meets his fate not just with Myrrha, but with an entire roomful of concubines and slaves. Delacroix probably drew on a number of sources in the visualisation of this incident. Apart from Byron, it’s thought that he was also influenced by the Greek historian Diodorus (first century CE), the Roman historian Quintus Curtius (also first century CE) and possibly an engraving of a pseudo-Etruscan relief of the incident (see Johnson, 1981, pp.117–18). It has also been suggested (see Lambertson, 2002) that the conception and iconography of Delacroix’s painting might have been inspired by similar work by Charles-Émile Champmartin, an artist with whom Delacroix was acquainted. Champmartin had visited the Near East and in 1828 completed a large-scale Oriental massacre scene, Massacre of the Janissaries: see Plate 2.
Click to see Plate 2: Charles-Émile Champmartin, Massacre of the Janissaries
However, the uncommissioned Sardanapalus was probably, above all, a product of Delacroix’s fancy. Archaeological accuracy was certainly not possible as Nineveh had not yet been excavated.
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free History of Art courses or view the range of currently available OU History of Art courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Friday, 5th February 2016
Last updated on: Friday, 5th February 2016
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
- This site has Copy Reuse Tracking enabled - see our FAQs for more information.
If you enjoyed this, why not follow a feed to find out when we have new things like it? Choose an RSS feed from the list below. (Don't know what to do with RSS feeds?)
Remember, you can also make your own, personal feed by combining tags from around OpenLearn.
All our alternative formats are free for you to download, for more information about the different formats we offer please see our FAQs. The most frequently used are Word (for accessibility), PDF (for print) and ePub and Kindle to download to eReaders*.
- Word (1.4 MB)
- PDF (2.4 MB)
- ePub 3.0 (35.8 MB)
- ePub 2.0 (1001 KB)
- Kindle (724 KB)
- RSS (458 KB)
- HTML (22.6 MB)
- SCORM (22.6 MB)
- OUXML Package (66 KB)
- OUXML File (201 KB)
- IMS Common cartridge
- Moodle backup (26.4 MB)
*Please note you will need an ePub and Mobi reader for these formats.