Edgar Degas - Scene of War in the Middle Ages 1865

Scene of War in the Middle Ages 1865
Scene of War in the Middle Ages
1865 85x147cm oil/canvas
Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France

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From Musée d'Orsay, Paris:
Until 1865, when Scene of War in the Middle Ages, was presented at the Salon, Degas wanted to be a history painter in the tradition of the "grand genre", which took events from history, the Bible or Greek and Roman mythology as subjects. This desire explains his study of many different poses, each a potential element to integrate into the final composition.
In Scene of War in the Middle Ages, the event described by Degas remains uncertain: for a long time it was thought to be a transposition into the past of an allegorical scene – not a drop of blood is spilled – of the violence suffered by the women of New Orleans during the American Civil War.
Although Degas might well have known of these atrocities through his maternal family who lived there, his work is above all an illustration of the brutality and inhumanity of men towards women in times of war.
His last history painting, Scene of War in the Middle Ages, whose matt appearance pays tribute to the fresco painters of the 15th century, marks a turning point in Degas' work.
The final work and the collection of preparatory drawings that accompanies it, reveal both the assimilation of many different sources of inspiration, including Goya, Delacroix and Puvis de Chavannnes, and a new focus on the body, that he subsequently developed in his contemporary studies of women bathing. In fact he picked up the same poses with the same unsparing observation but in a completely different context, and with the same unsparing observation. The transition towards Realism is particularly striking in his studies for Interior, also called The Rape, his most important genre painting, created at the end of the 1860s.