Patrick Noon

Around the same times as the self-portrait that we just looked at Delacroix was commissioned with probably the most important commission of his life, not that it was the largest, but it was probably the most important, because it was the central panel of the Gallery of Apollo in the Musée du Louvre. It’s a panel that had been left unpainted, unfinished or unfilled with any kind of subject for over 200 years. And it was his job to go in and try to paint a subject that was going to compete with all this Baroque decoration around it from the 17th century. And he was terrified, but he studied Italian ceiling painting very closely for what he could.

So he choose a story from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the ancient Roman writer’s great poem of the gods. And the subject is Apollo slaying the python. According to Ovid’s Metamorphosis Jupiter had basically tried to destroy mankind and then realized that in doing so he gave rise to all these monsters who would probably finish the job. So instead, in an act of mercy, he sends all of his minion gods down to earth to slay all these monsters. And Apollo was assigned the worst of them which was the great python. And what Delacroix shows in the swirl of sunlight and Apollo in his chariot coming out of this brilliant sunlight (he was after all the sun god) shooting python down below and surrounded by the other gods and other vignettes destroying other monsters.

The sketch which we have in the show mimics the final composition and there is only two sketches known for this final ceiling which gives you an idea, a sense of how Delacroix worked. Once he sort of banged out this sketch, he knew what he was going to do, he just went and did it.

Eric Bruce

How does Delacroix create such energy in his paintings? Press the Green button to find out.