Artibus et Historiae no. 74 (XXXVII)2016, ISSN 0391-9064
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STEPHEN BANN - Robert-Fleury’s Delaroche and Delaroche’s Raphael (pp. 283–289)
Like most of the prominent French artists of his period, Paul Delaroche was portrayed in a variety of media throughout the course of his life. The earliest record of his features can be found in representations of the studio of Baron Gros from the early 1820s. By the end of the 1830s, his celebrity as a leading painter practising the ‘genre historique’ had led to the creation of a series of portrait studies by lithographers which included a strong element of caricature. Such works not only reflected Delaroche’s portrayal of death scenes, but also the seemingly deliberate decision to identify himself with the clearly recognisable image of Napoleon, aspects of whose career he also brought to life in a number of major works from 1838 onwards.
Quite separate from this tendency, however, and uniquely sympathetic as a record by a close colleague, is the posthumous portrait of Delaroche painted by Robert-Fleury in 1857. The decision to pose the painter in a specific room in the Palais des Beaux-Arts must surely have taken into account the fact that his masterpiece, the Hémicycle des Beaux-Arts, lies just on the other side of the wall that we see in the portrait. Moreover, the fact that Delaroche is shown against the background of a celebrated contemporary print by Boucher-Desnoyers after Raphael’s Transfiguration alludes in two important respects to his achievement as an artist: first of all, as regards the arresting new characterisation of Raphael that Delaroche had devised for the Hémicycle after studying the supposed self-portrait of the artist in the Czartoryski collection; and secondly, as regards Delaroche’s profound conviction (noted by Robert-Fleury) that reproductive engravers would succeed in perpetuating the message of his own major works.