Death of Sardanapalus
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Death of Sardanapalus (La Mort de Sardanapale) is a painting dated at 1827 by Eugène Delacroix. Its dominant feature is the bed on which a nude prostrates herself and beseeches the apathetic Sardanapalus, who watches as his worldly possessions are destroyed. Sardanapalus ordered his possessions destroyed and concubines murdered before he sets himself on fire, once he learns that he is faced with military defeat.
It was first shown at the Paris Salon of 1828.
Delacroix's painting of the death of the Assyrian king Sardanapalus shows an emotionally stirring scene alive with beautiful colours, exotic costumes and tragic events. The Death of Sardanapalus depicts the besieged king watching impassively as guards carry out his orders to kill his servants, concubines and animals. The literary source is a play by Byron, although the play does not specifically mention any massacre of concubines.
Sardanapalus' attitude of calm detachment is a familiar pose in Romantic imagery in this period in Europe. The painting, which was not exhibited again for many years afterward, has been regarded by some critics as a gruesome fantasy involving death and lust. Especially shocking is the struggle of a nude woman whose throat is about to be cut, a scene placed prominently in the foreground for maximum impact. However, the sensuous beauty and exotic colours of the composition make the picture appear pleasing and shocking at the same time.