The Death of Sardanapalus is a painting by Eugène Delacroix that was completed around 1827. The painting depicts the death of Sardanapalus’s concubines and the destruction of his possessions. It is based off of a play by Lord Byron that Delacroix must have encountered after a trip to England.
According to legend, Saradanapalus was an overindulgent king of the Assyrian empire. His decadence caused his subjects to grow unhappy and a group of Assyrians along with their alliances in other countries. The king fought against the rebelling citizens and thought that he had defeated them, so he returned to his luxurious life and celebrated, rather than insuring the successful defeat of the rebels. Unfortunately for him, the rebels attacked his forces during the celebrations and the king fled. A series of disasters followed and Sardanapalus decided to kill himself rather than be captured by the rebels. He killed both himself and his concubines.
In the painting, we see Sardanapalus sitting on a large golden bed with red sheets. Red is the color of passion and lust, while gold is the color of riches. These represent the decadent lifestyle that Sardanapalus led. Two concubines are lying across the bed – one on her back and one lying at Sardanapalus’ feet. It is possible that she is begging him to save her from her fate, asking him to stop the slaughter. In the bottom right hand corner, there is the shocking image of one of the naked concubines being held by a man who is about to cut her throat.
The Death of Sardanapalus is an example of the play on violence and sensuality that Delacroix showed in some of his paintings. It is aesthetically pleasing because of the colors and the contours of the bodies of the animals, concubines, and slaves. However, it is shocking because of the slaughter and also because he does not seem to be concerned with his concubines being murdered. He is calmly watching as the action happens.