The Death of Sardanapal, shown at the Salon of 1827, was described in the exhibition catalogue as follows: "The rebels are besieging the palace. Lying on a splendid bed, at the top of a huge pyre, Sardanapalus orders the eunuchs and functionaries of the palace to cut the throats of his women, his pages, even his horses and favorite dog: nothing that had served his pleasure was to survive him." The theme is not taken, as has sometimes been claimed, from Lord Byron's Sardanapalus, written in 1821, although the English poet's work may have exercised some influence, if only on the popularity of the subject. The canvas was greeted with almost unanimous rejection: the critics pointed out oversights and errors, but above all a sense of confusion. The work is deliberately anti-classical , based entirely on a swirl of colors, in a manner based on the study of Rembrandt (a source that was looked down on by his contemporaries), on the Romantic emphasis of the gestures and on an intentionally asymmetrical and overblown composition.
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