Velocity of Animal Flesh and the Art of Empire (Delacroix)


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The big Delacroix at the Met is long gone, but I wanted to post just this bit here. On the one hand, there’s a lot that’s boring about his painting, but when you compare it with the preceding Neoclassicism of David, we begin to see many things that are unique and even interesting about France and the nineteenth century. The first has to do with the fleshiness of the flesh, particularly in terms of the turn to the female nude, but not just. The second concerns concerns animal bodies, represented here by horses and tigers and lions. The third is the velocity of these bodies, particularly in the scenes of Arab horsemen, the fusion of riders and their mounts, and the tangle of bodies, those of the hunters and those of the hunted. The third relates to something that resembles journalism, these being figures drawn from the Greek struggle for independence from the Ottomans. The fourth concerns the Orient and orientalism, Arab figures who are the object of the painter’s gaze and those who return the gaze. Delacroix allows us to see that romanticism, not the Enlightenment neoclassicism, is the consummate art of empire, that all of these points of human and animal interest are inseparable, and that these relate to different kind of bodies and different corporeal intensities. And, lest I forget, drama, represented by scenes from Shakespeare and Goethe, not a little of which pervades the entire ambient atmosphere.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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