Oh, how I love gigantic paintings! At more than 12 by 16 feet, The Death of Sardanapalus does not disappoint. The work itself is based on the historical tale of the last Assyrian king, Sardanapalus. According to legend, upon hearing the news of invaders in his capital city, the King decided that he would destroy his Earthly possessions instead of facing a humiliating defeat. Not only were his possessions burned, but so were his slaves and concubines as well. Sardanapalus knew that he would place himself upon the funerary pyre upon its completion.
Delacroix depicted this tale in its final moments. He captured as much destruction and chaos as possible, which is characteristic of the Romanticism style that this work was painted in. Beyond the pandemonium pictured, we see the main action of the painting taking place atop a large red bed. Figures are depicted in various disarray. One man wrangles one of the horses, while another lies at the foot of who we assume to be Sardanapalus. Trinkets surround the figures, indicating the wealth of Sardanapalus.
When Delacroix first exhibited The Death of Sardanapalus in 1828, the reviews were not stellar. This was primarily due to the fact that it wasn’t a traditional neoclassical painting with a clear hero. In fact, this work was quite literally the opposite with Sardanapalus playing the role of the anti-hero.