Saturday, May 31, 2014

Columbus and His Son at La Rábida (1838)

Eugène Delacroix: Columbus and His Son at La Rábida

The hero, the individual of talent and passion who follows a difficult, solitary path to greatness, was central to romanticism. Here is Columbus at the final moment of frustration before his ultimate triumph. Almost penniless, he and his son have sought shelter in the monastery of La Rábida, where, according to legendary accounts, word of the fateful meeting with Queen Isabella would soon arrive.

Calm rectangular forms dominate: the juncture of walls and ceiling, the parade of dark canvases down the hall, the large map that Columbus contemplates. The figure groups have solid geometrical form. Even the colors are quiet: the monks' habits, the soft light and brown shadows - only the plume of Columbus' hat, which points to him as protagonist, interrupts this muted range. Neither the tone nor composition matches our image of Delacroix as the champion of color and exuberant form. More typical of his work, for example, are the bright color accents and dynamic zigzagging energy of Arabs Skirmishing. Columbus and His Son is one of a pair - the second painting (Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio), much richer in color and effect, shows the explorer returning in triumph - and it seems likely that Delacroix wanted to underscore radically opposed circumstances by corresponding differences in feel. [National Gallery of Art]

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