The Death of Sardanapulus

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Eugene Delacroix, The Death Of Sardanapalus, 1827

I have never seen such a piece of both great chaos and pointed apathy. The last of the Assyrian rulers, Sardanapalus, sits atop his cushy, luxurious bed and orders the destruction of his material goods and servants. Having heard that he was soon to fall and be humiliated publicly, Sardanapalus decided to destroy everything rather than face his public.

The warm color palette contrasts the darkness of spilled blood from his harem of faithful concubines. But the real beauty and movement in the piece lies in the emotion and vignette style. Pioneering this technique, the dramatic lighting heightens the sense of urgency and chaos within the painting. The viewer is forced to look above at these god like figures killing and destroying the kings possessions in a hostile manner. Delacroix’s subject matter is not only foreign, but his style and means of delivering feeling in the piece is unmatched.

This piece truly exhibits Delacroix's passion for the oriental - an atypical but growingly popular style of the time. Greatly inspired by Napoleon's conquest of Egypt, the lavish clothing and exorbitant amount of wealth in the piece contrast daily life in France. Delacroix found Lord Byron's play Sardanapalus to be the great inspiration for the painting. Selected because Delacroix believed that people must not grant any sympathy to the ruling class because their losses are not limited to themselves. This painting resembles the reign of Napoleon, with a high-class lifestyle hurting all others below. This piece has two sides of emotion to it. At first, the chaos makes the viewer feel all the terror and pain, but then they see Sardanapalus on his bed, calm as can be, and the viewer is confused. For me, even disturbed. What kind of person can watch everything they have, everything they love, be destroyed and just lay there?

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