Delacroix’s Justice in Palais Bourbon (1833-7)

In 1833 Delacroix was given his first public room to decorate, the Throne Room in the Palais Bourbon. Given the medium and its importance he turned to Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel and that of other masters for his overall theme, the moment of creation when the artist's mind and the divine mind become one. 

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Delacroix, Justice above Mediterranean and Ocean (1833-7) Oil and virgin wax on plaster. Palais Bourbon, Salon du Roi, Paris

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Using mythological figures and personified symbols to replace the Christian imagery of the Sistine Chapel, Delacroix painted Justice as a semi-nude woman stretching across a narrow space in the ceiling. Her pose and role re-imagines how Michelangelo also squeezed Jonah into a tight space. As I show elsewhere Michelangelo's Jonah is a disguised artist sitting like Michelangelo himself would have "painting" the ceiling1. Likewise, here, Justice stretches how Delacroix might have in the same "spot." Note how she uses her short wand like a paintbrush to "paint the wall" near the mother and child. As in so many other works, the studio and setting have been fused.

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Above: Detail of Delacroix's Justice (1833-7) 
Below: Delacroix, Justice 

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On a pilaster lower down Delacroix painted The Mediterranean as a sculpture. She wears a crown and, again, holds a short wand like he himself might have held a paintbrush. She is an androgynous mirror-image of the artist turned into a work of art with his mind represented by a sea if not an ocean. Ironically, for a sculpture, she seems to paint the fabric around her waist which, in a further metaphor, might represent the "canvas".

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Left: Delacroix, Mediterranean (1833-7) Palais Bourbon, Salon du Roi, Paris
Right: Detail of Delacroix's Mediterranean

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Historians have shown how Delacroix re-used figures from earlier works in the Throne Room.2 What has not been recognized is that he re-used them to represent his paintings. Another interesting feature is the lion at left, an animal Delacroix often painted as "king of the jungle." It represents the mirror-image of his purified soul, a spiritual state traditionally symbolized as royalty though in this throne room, more specifically, as "King of France." Like a painter the lion looks out over his shoulder either at a model or in a mirror as artists do when making a self-portrait. The lion is that side of Delacroix's mind which was his animal nature, that jungle of chaos known as his "imagination." 

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Delacroix, Justice, detail (1833-7)  

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No-one would mistake the lion for the artist but just as David, an earlier French master, used two bangs of hair on his forehead to represent his alter ego in Napoleon so Delacroix and the lion share divided chins with two rounded protrusions rather than one. The division in Delacroix's chin is even emphasized by the little beard separating the two halves. The slight downward curve of the artist's mouth is also echoed in the curved line of the lion's lower teeth. From there on up is mostly imagination, his own uncombed hair perhaps suggested in the lion's untamed mane. All else is savage and wild.

Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Justice, rotated.
Right: Detail of Delacroix's Self-portrait, inverted (1842) Uffizi, Florence

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Notes:

1. Abrahams, "Quick Guide to the Sistine Chapel", Feb. 2011. The findings were first published in 2008 in The Art Newspaper.

2. Gilles NĂ©ret, Delacroix (Cologne: Taschen) 2000, pp. 72-3

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 29 Apr 2012. © 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.