The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan
Oil on canvas
23 1/2 x 28 7/8 in. (59.6 x 73.4 cm)
Gift of Bertha Palmer Thorne, Rose Movius Palmer, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur M. Wood, and Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Palmer, 1962.966
Following a visit to England in 1825, Eugène Delacroix, the leading Romantic painter in France, based this painting on the poem The Giaour (pronounced jor) written by English poet Lord Byron in 1813. The subject—passions avenged on the faraway Greek battlefield—is perfectly suited to the Romantic vision of exotic locales and unleashed emotion.
In the painting, a Venetian known as the Giaour—a Turkish term for infidel—fights the Muslim Hassan to avenge the death of his lover, who was killed by Hassan after fleeing his harem. The stark setting and aggressive movements place the focus of the painting on these two main characters. Weapons poised, the enemies face off in mirrored poses: the Giaour in swirling white with bloodshot eyes, Hassan facing his opponent with his weapon raised. The dynamic motion and emotion of the composition, which looks back to the Baroque style of Peter Paul Rubens, is further heightened by the artist’s use of high-keyed colors and bold and loose brushwork. Delacroix’s handling of pigments was influenced by a mid-19th-century color theory that stated that a spot of color will appear to be surrounded by a faint ring of its complement. In Delacroix’s painting, the adaptation of this effect is seen in the artist’s use of complementary colors, rather than the addition of black pigment, to create shadows.
The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan was included in an exhibition at the Parisian Galerie Lebrun to benefit the Greeks and their war of liberation from the Ottoman Turks (1821–1832). This political cause inspired numerous Romantic artists, writers, and musicians, and was the subject of one of Delacroix’s best-known paintings, The Massacre at Chios. The latter painting was based on an actual incident in the Greek wars of independence, unlike the Art Institute’s painting, which is derived from a work of fiction. Both are examples of Orientalism in Romantic painting, in which depictions of the Middle East and North Africa emphasize the exotic appeal of the lands and their people.
Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson
The Revolt of Cairo
Oil and ink on paper, laid down on canvas
12 1/8 x 17 3/4 in. (30.8 x 45.1 cm)
Restricted gift of Mrs. James W. Alsdorf; Bequest of Luella Thomas; Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial and Alexander A. McKay endowments, 1999.384
French artist Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson (1767–1824) was a pupil of Neoclassical painter Jacques Louis David, yet, for his concentration on the exotic and the imaginative, he is recognized as a pioneer of French Romanticism. The Revolt of Cairo depicts the brutal suppression of an Egyptian revolt against the French and is a study for a larger painting commissioned by Napoléon Bonaparte to commemorate his military campaigns in Egypt at the end of the 18th century.
In the painting, a muscular, nude Egyptian struggles to support and defend his fallen Turkish leader from the Napoleanic soldier attacking from his right. Such strong diagonal lines and heightened emotion are typical features of Romanticism. Both Delacroix’s and Girodet’s paintings exemplify Orientalism, an inclination in 19th-century painting to emphasize exotic settings, costumes, and customs of foreign environments and their people, particularly those of the Near East or North Africa.