One of the most famous Romantic artists was Eugene Delacroix. The two paintings below will show you the difference between the Romantic movement and the neoclassical style, associated with the Enlightenment, that we looked at last week. Compare the composition, subject, movement and light in Delacroix’s highly Romantic (Death of Sardanapalas) and David’s very neoclassical (Oath of the Horatii)
Delacroix’s painting is typically Romantic in its exoticism and emotion; a non-Western despot knows that he’s about to be conquered, and he’s determined to take everything down with him. He watches with chilling complacency (enjoyment?) as his concubines and his horses are slaughtered. A dramatic, undulating red diagonal line of cloth bisects the painting like a river of blood cascading from Sardanapalas, as his own poison stands ready. The painting is crowded and alive and chaotic, with curving lines, movement and deep emotions of terror. In contrast, David’s neoclassical work is all clean straight geometry — even the soldiers’ bodies conform, creating a series of triangles, and balance. The Roman arches divide the painting up in an orderly way. There is deep emotion here, too – but it is a noble emotion, in service to a great ideal, and held in check, as the women weep quietly.
Two different subjects and artistic techniques, evoking different emotions, and each presenting a piece of the complexity that is humanity.
Which style appeals more to you, neoclassicism (Oath of the Horatii) or Romanticism (Death of Sardanapalus), and why?
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