Friday, October 14, 2016

Hector Reproaching Paris, by Pierre Claude Francois Delorme (1824)

We close our brief visit with painter Pierre Claude Francois Delorme (1783-1859) with his 1824 picture, Hector Reproaching Paris, which now resides in the Amiens Museum.

Your Correspondent must confess to never having seen this picture in person, and the photographic representations I’ve been able to find online are not great.  But, it is so interesting that I couldn’t let our look at Delorme pass without a few thoughts on it.

We had written about the very formal Neoclassical Empire style, and how Delorme seemed to separate himself from that tradition a bit, thanks to the influence of his love for Italian Renaissance painters such as Michelangelo and Raphael.  This picture here, with its rigid formalism and tableaux-like staging, is more in line with the style of Delorme’s time, but he still manages to incorporate some Renaissance-Mannerist thinking.

Those who remember their Iliad, recall that the whole disaster was predicated on Paris falling in love with, and taking away, the beautiful Helen of Troy.  Her defection leads to a cataclysmic war, one that takes the life of Paris’ brother, Hector, who is killed at the hand of Achilles.

Delorme’s picture illustrates the scene where Hector breaks into the lovers’ apartments to call Paris to war.  (In the text, Paris is already preparing for battle when Hector enters, but Delorme creates more drama with his staging.)  Delorme’s craft perfectly captures the differences between Hector, the warrior, and Paris, the lover.

The world of Paris and Helen is one of love and sensuality, presented in a pale, golden light.  A statue of Aphrodite (Goddess of Love) holding a dove (symbol of peace) stands in the background, while fragrant blossoms are strewn about the floor and the table is set with food and drink.  On the floor is the lyre that Paris has dropped; he stands partly on it, as if burying his worldly pleasures.  The sensuality of this realm is underscored by the nudity of Paris and Helen; particularly that of Paris, who is caught between the opposing worlds of love and war.  In an ironic touch, Paris grows more naked still – he is removing his wreath – before donning his helmet and armor.

Paris is in marked contrast with the placid and serene beauty of Helen.  She is the lynchpin of the entire tragedy, but remains a passive object to the passions around her.  More important, this perfumed world of love and pleasure is rightly her realm, and she is perfectly at home in it.  It is the figures of Hector and Paris who are the aliens or partial visitors to this space.  (Indeed, note how her pose is similar to the statue of Aphrodite in the background.)  The peacock feathers strike a note of vanity, while the leopard skin on the bed adds a bit of wild carnality.

Hector, depicted largely in shadow, appears as a representative of war, complete with red mantle.  The shield and spear are near-black outlines (the spear being particularly phallic) – this darkness announces the darkness of war.  Indeed, the right-hand side of the canvas, where Paris reaches for his armor, is also dark; the lovers exist in the shadow of war.

Delorme relies on chiaroscuro, more a Renaissance than Neoclassical technique, to provide the contrast between the worlds of love and war, of indulgence and discipline, and of pleasure and duty.  More important, the shadowy figure of Hector is supremely out-of-place in the world of Paris and Helen.

As we saw with Hero and Leander and Cephalus and Aroura, Delorme clearly always sides with the lovers.  I’m with him.

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