(b. 1798, Charenton-Saint-Maurice, d. 1863, Paris)

The Death of Sardanapalus

Oil on canvas, 392 x 496 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

In the Death of Sardanapalus, inspired by the work of another Romantic, the poet Byron, Delacroix painted an apotheosis of cruelty. The composition, all reds and golds, portrays the holocaust of the legendary Assyrian king, destroying his possessions before committing suicide. The insurgents are attacking his castle; all is lost; stretched out on a sumptuous bed at the summit of an immense pyre, Sardanapalus orders eunuchs and palace officers to cut the throats of his women, his pages, and even his favourite dogs and horses; none of the objects that have served his pleasure are to survive him. His women are placed on a level with his horses and dogs.

The diagonal rhythms, the fluidity of line, the brilliance of the colours and its profound sensuality make The Death of Sardanapalus a masterpiece of 19th-century art. It was exhibited in Paris at the Salon of 1827.