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?