(b. 1815, Senlis, d. 1879, Villiers-le-Bel)

Romans of the Decadence

Oil on canvas, 466 x 773 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The peak in theatrical Romanticism came in the Salon of 1847, Couture, a pupil of Gros, exhibited this painting nearly eight meters long. It had been commissioned by the government for the Palais du Luxembourg. One can see the work as the sum of all that French painting had striven for between the Neoclassical period and Romanticism. Not only does the work cite painterly and compositional devices from old masters like Veronese, Tiepolo, Rubens and Poussin, but to Couture's contemporaries the artist also seemed to have succeeded in combining Antiquity and the present. It is all to be found united here: the antique columned hall, sculpture competing with living figures, beautiful forms created with line in the manner of Ingres, and Delaroche's delight in detail.

A woman is the central figure, placed so that she will draw all eyes. She is stretched out in the middle of a large crowd of people who are abandoning themselves to all the vices that are supposed to have led to the downfall of Roma. The scene is framed by five larger-than-life-size sculptures representing men from Roman history, their gestures seeming to demand a return to virtue.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.