This painting was not known to the first compilers of Delacroix’s work: neither Moreau (1873) nor Robaut (1885) catalogued it, although it did appear, without comment, in the list compiled by Loudolphe de Virmond (1856). Johnson initially cited it as a lost work (1981), later publishing it in a comprehensive article (1984). Delacroix himself disdained this work of his youth, writing in his journal on December 30, 1823: "I’ve sold to M. Coutan, the collector of [Ary] Scheffer, my execrable painting of Ivanhoe . . . poor man! And he said that he would take a few more from me; I’ll be all the more tempted to believe that he’s not filled with wonder by it." As Johnson (1984, p. 280) noted, it is "the only painting of a literary or historical subject that [Delacroix] is known to have completed between the Barque of Dante
in 1822 and the beginning of work on the Massacres de Scio
in January 1824" (see also Johnson 1986, p. 316, no. L94). Given that it is worked in a style that is as close as Delacroix ever came to the Troubadour manner of Ingres or the artists of the so-called school de Lyon, it is not difficult to understand his rejection of this work after he had begun to create his own very different and much more personal mature style. Nevertheless, this painting may be admired on its own terms, as did its first owner, the distinguished collector Coutan (1779–1830), who assembled the most important holdings of late Empire and early Restoration genre and landscape painting in France. The writer Forget noticed the painting in 1835, when it was on view in Paris at Galerie Susse, although Delacroix himself seems to have forgotten it by the end of his life: he did not include it in the list of subjects drawn from Ivanhoe
that he compiled on December 29, 1860 (Journal
, vol. 2, pp. 1374–75).
The subject derives from Walter Scott’s historical novel Ivanhoe
(first published 1820, published in French in 1821), chapter 29. It is the first painting by Delacroix to be based on a reading of Scott, and it may be the first visualization of Scott by any French painter. As noted by Kemp (1973, p. 215), Delacroix had to imagine his own rendering of the scene, as no stage production of Ivanhoe
was mounted in France until 1826. Wilfrid of Ivanhoe and the Jewish heroine Rebecca are imprisoned in the fortress of Torquilstone, which is under siege by forces including the disguised Richard the Lionheart. Because Ivanhoe is wounded and cannot get out of bed, Rebecca describes the combat taking place outside the window. Rebecca, who is secretly in love with Ivanhoe, describes the combat in terms alien to Ivanhoe’s chivalric values: as a Jew, she is appalled by the scene, while Ivanhoe is only frustrated that he can neither see it nor, indeed, participate in the bloodletting. His reply to her is now famous: "Thou art no Christian, Rebecca." As Wright (1997, pp. 135–36) observes, this "verbal description of temperament and culture, this epitome of the antivisual, attracted several Romantic artists," as can be seen in numerous examples by Léon Cogniet (1794–1880), Tony Johannot (1792–1870), Camille Roqueplan (1800–1855), and Horace Vernet (1789–1863).
Sir Walter Scott, as Wright sees it, "had created a new literary genre: the historical novel. A blend of fictional literature and historical documentation, it was simultaneously didactic (but not pedantic) and entertaining (but not frivolous). Because of its style and format, it reached a wide audience. Precisely the same combination was being sought in the pictorial arts," resulting in "peinture de genre historique
or peinture anecdotique
" (Beth Segal Wright, "Scott’s Historical Novels and French Historical Painting, 1815–1855," Art Bulletin
63 [June 1981], pp. 268–69). As practiced by Ingres and other Troubadour artists, this genre adopted a historicist approach, in which detailed renderings of costumes and settings assumed prominence over narrative expression. In Delacroix’s hands the dramatic event was always emphasized, even when, in this instance, he took pains to provide a (false) sense of historical accuracy. He relied on what Charles Baudelaire would later call "the magical art by whose grace he was able to translate the word into more lively and accurate plastic images than those of anyone else working in the same profession" (Oeuvres complètes
, [Paris, 1975–76], vol. 2, p. 743). Delacroix would go on to make a number of realizations of scenes from Ivanhoe
, among which is the magisterial painting of 1846 now at The Metropolitan Museum (03.30
). For his part, Scott became the most widely read English author in France; his immense popularity there created a demand for almost immediate translations of his novels.
Prompted perhaps by his mentor Gericault, Delacroix looked to Michelangelo for the pose of Ivanhoe. The adoption of aspects of Michelangelo’s art by the artists in Gericault’s circle was a defining feature of their anti-classical style, which soon became known as Romanticism.
Tinterow and Miller 2005; updated by Asher Ethan Miller 2014