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Charles V at the Monastery of Yuste

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)

© RMN / J. Schormans

Eugène Delacroix
(1798-1863)

MD 1987-1
1837
Oil on canvas
Purchased, 1987
H. 0,180 m ; L. 0,265 m
Signed top center: Eug. Delacroix

This small painting, featuring a subtle luminarism, was painted in 1837 for Marie-Elisabeth Boulanger-Cavé, (1809-after 1875), a student and friend of Delacroix who developed a method for teaching drawing that Delacroix helped to promote.

It represents Emperor Charles V playing the organ at the Monastery of Yuste (Extremadura), where he retired in 1557, less than two years after his abdication. Delacroix made two other versions of this popular Romantic subject, one in 1831 (private collection, England) and another in 1839.

 

The history

At the peak of his fame, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, king of Spain and of the Spanish possessions in America, king of Germany, the Netherlands, Naples, and Sicily, abdicated from power in 1555 and retired to the Monastery of Yuste in Extremadura in 1557. He died there on 24 September 1558. His renouncement of his immense temporal power for the salvation of his soul ignited the imagination of the romantic era: Alfred de Musset wrote a play about it. The exceptional personality of Charles V, his courage in battle, his love of music, and the protection he offered Titian further added to his appeal.

Variations on a theme

The canvas, for which the Musée Delacroix owns two preparatory drawings, was painted in 1837 and was rediscovered nearly one hundred years after it was exhibited at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1885. Delacroix had already explored this subject in 1831 in a larger and somewhat different composition, which was exhibited at the 1837 Salon. It is now in an English collection: the monk listening to Charles V is standing to the left, and the dark tones of the painting evoke the solitude and renunciation chosen by the emperor. The Musée Delacroix has two preparatory drawings for this earlier painting. A third, smaller version was painted in 1839 for Comte Anatole Demidoff, prince of San Donato, but its location is unknown. Notes from Delacroix’s Journal and certain sketchbooks indicate that the painter, who had always been drawn to the subject of Charles V, returned to this theme toward the end of his life: "I see with pleasure ... that he was a great man who had much energy and, at the same time, pleasant qualities. This is not how history has generally represented him; he is widely believed to have been cold and perfidious... Charles V had his weaknesses, like any other man; he was a very good man, full of kindness and indulgence for those who approached him. The sorrow he felt on the death of his last wife contributed a great deal to the resolution he took, ending his worldly role." (Journal, 15 May 1853)

Documentation

Lee Johnson, The paintings of Eugène Delacroix, a critical catalogue, Volume II, Oxford, 1986, n° L142, repr.306; Fourth Supplement and Reprint of Third supplement, Oxford, 2002, n°L142, p.17, repr.2, et p.340.

Arlette Sérullaz, "Acquisitions" in Revue du Louvre, 3-1987, p. 215, repr.

Lee Johnson, "Eugène Delacroix et Charles V" in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXLII, sept. 2000, p. 544-548, repr.

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