Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Death of Sardanapalus

Through most of history, the purpose of art was not only to be pleasing to the eye, but also to tell a story. Back when a vast majority of the population was illiterate, artwork mostly served to reinforce narratives that people already knew, and to venerate the donors. Much of renaissance and romantic art was essentially illustrations to biblical stories and Greek and Roman mythology.

In this painting by Eugene Delacroix, we see a very violent scene. The last king of Assyria, Sardanapalus' palace is being raided. He has ordered all of his possessions -- slaves, concubines, horses, gold and jewels -- to be killed or destroyed, so that his enemies walk away with nothing. As he watches this task being carried out, his favorite concubine throws herself onto his bed, to be as close as possible to him when she dies.

Delacroix rendered the figures realistically as was the style in this period, and painted in warm tones and broad strokes. He could achieve a high level of detail because his canvas was so huge: over twelve by sixteen feet.

As I was considering what piece I would use for my first post, I wondered, what is the difference between “art” and “illustration”? Where does one draw the line? Does illustration always have a story behind it?

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you that the line between art and illustration is thin at best. This piece is a perfect example, it's accepted as art, but it really is an illustration of the story you described. As to whether all illustration has a story behind it, I think it does, sort of. Not all illustrations describe an obvious narrative, but they always capture some idea, and that idea is has it's origins somewhere, and that is a story in itself.