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4.5 The soul and sensitivity

In another journal entry of 1824, Delacroix speaks of the fact that the soul is inevitably trapped within the physical body:

It seems to me that the body may be the organization that tones down the soul, which is more universal, yet passes through the brain as through a rolling mill which hammers it and stamps it with the stamp of our insipid physical nature, and what weight is more insufferable than that of this living cadaver which we inhabit? Instead of dashing towards the objects of desire that it cannot grasp, nor even define, it spends the flashing instant of life submitting to the stupid situations into which this tyrant throws it. As a bad joke, doubtless, heaven has allowed us to view the sight of the world through this absurd window: its fieldglass, out of focus and lustreless, always turned in the same direction, spoils all the judgments of the other, whose native good faith is often corrupted and often horrible fruits are the result!

(Pach, 1938, p.93)

So far, then, we can see how Delacroix’s Romantic view of the artist as an elite soul was mediated by the ‘bad joke’ of his sensuality and physical weaknesses – ‘A link reluctant in a fleshly chain’ (Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto III, line lxxii). All of this might support the view that Sardanapalus is a sensuous riot entrapping (yet revealing to the initiated) the artist’s soul. But there was another force that Delacroix found to be of essential importance to the artist: intelligence or reason.


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