Degas’ Study of Delacroix’s Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople (c.1860)

Around 1860 when Edgar Degas was in his mid-twenties he "copied" Delacroix's Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople (1840). Clearly Delacroix's original (right) is about war and religion but Degas knew that, underneath, art and the artist's mind were the subjects of any painting by a master.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Degas, Study after Delacroix's Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople (c.1860) Oil on cardboard. Kunsthaus, Zurich

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In an important change Degas lowered the horse's neck. Why? To know that you must take our premise seriously (even if still not convinced) and become familiar with Degas' methods. Here he transformed the neck into his ski-slope nose and the red and black fabric into his bulbous and protruding lips. A soldier's helmet, barely reflective in the original, becomes his eye. There is a diagram at right to help you.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Degas' Study after Delacroix (c.1860) 
Center: Detail of Degas' Self-portrait (1857) Red chalk on paper. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Right: Diagram of the detail at far left

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Little is known of these traditional methods. Yet Degas did something similar (this, too, never noted before) in the hands of his portrait of Manet (far left). Once again, Degas' long nose and large lips appear as a veiled self-portrait (center). Degas has reincarnated as Manet's artful hands. It is not, then, a Portrait of Manet but a Portrait of Degas-as-Manet in Degas' own mind.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Degas' Studies for a Portrait of Manet (c.1864-6)
Center: Detail of Manet's hands from image at left
Right: Detail of Degas' Self-portrait (1857)

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Compare the miniscule sketch of Manet's hands (right) with the much larger detail from Degas' Study after Delacroix and you will see the similar form. Only the open eye is on the other side. It is worth remembering because, like a signature, this form is the sign of the artist.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Degas' Study after Delacroix (c.1860)
Right: Detail of Degas' Studies for a Portrait of Manet (c.1864-6)

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Like other images of war Delacroix's depicts what is happening inside his mind after the creative battle has been won. That is why the old man on the left (far left) resembles Titian from his late Pieta (right). He stretches his arm to paint the victors; in the original he uses his beard to paint Christ because brush and beard share a similar texture.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Delacroix's Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople (1840) Oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris
Right: Detail of Titian's Pietá (c.1575), horizontally flipped. Oil on canvas. Accademia, Venice

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Welcomed like heroes, Degas and Delacroix have depicted themselves as the victor(s) on horseback with flagpoles held aloft like "paintbrushes" and their banners flapping in the wind like "canvasses". Horses are an important feature of art for many reasons but, in part, because an artist's easel with its four legs resembles a horse, a link long maintained in the French and Italian for easel: chevalet and cavaletto. These little-known tips are crucial for understanding art. If you can keep them in mind, they will help you. 

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 10 Feb 2013. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.