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A compositional study of Girodet’s Revolt of Cairo, from the Art Institute’s collection, is one of several preparatory works for the large-scale painting’s final canvas. This oil sketch on paper mounted to canvas shows a well-developed composition that represents an advanced stage in Girodet’s systematic working process.
Through Infrared Reflectography Imaging (IR) we are able to view an extensive under-drawing that outlines all of the figures and details of the composition. The drawing’s linear character and the absence of corrections suggest that Girodet was following an already well-established design. Nevertheless, comparison of the under-drawing to the painted surface shows that, as he painted, Girodet departed from the drawing in some places.
The most significant of these changes is in the position of the saber-wielding figure in red. IR imaging clearly shows that this figure was originally placed lower in the composition and that he once wore a fur hat. This adjustment placed the figure and his crescent shaped sword in greater prominence, perhaps to counterbalance the more crowded right side of the composition.
Changes are also found in the seated foreground figure holding a dagger, which in IR is revealed to be holding a long saber pointed in the opposite direction. In addition, the figure originally held a knife in his left hand instead of a musket and his costume was slightly different.
The prostrate figure at center left is depicted in the drawing with his head clearly visible. In the painted version the head is shrouded and placed behind his extended arm.
The fighting figures at the left were originally somewhat higher in the composition.
Immediately above these figures, a pointed archway that is visible in the under-drawing, was relocated further to the right in the painting stage.
Other more minor changes include the deletion of a helmet from one of the figures in the center of the composition and the deletion of weapons in the upraised hand of the figure at the right of the composition.
IR imaging also shows that in the drawing stage, the artist marked a black outline inside the paper border and initially painted within the marked area but later extended the paint to cover the entire sheet.
The information above represents research carried out by Bonnie Rimer, former Mellon Fellow in Painting Conservation at the Art Institute of Chicago; and Tim Lennon, former Painting Conservator at the Art Institute of Chicago. Infrared Imaging of the Revolt of Cairo was carried out by Bonnie Rimer.
To learn more about conservation at the Art Institute, including work on Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, visit our web site’s conservation page.
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|Last updated: February 2006. Best viewed with Netscape Navigator 4.0 or higher.
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