Skip to main content

Les Perses vaincus par les Grecs

cat 4 crop.jpg

CAT 4. Etienne Achille Réveil after John Flaxman. Les Perses vaincus par les Grecs. Plate 30 in Tragédies d’Eschyle illustrating Act 3 in Les Perses. Paris: 1833. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

This image of the Greeks vanquishing the Persians has a terse, muscular economy comparable to Aeschylus’s account of the Battle of Salamis in the play. From the boulders and archers at the top of the image down to the unnatural embrace of the warriors at the bottom, Flaxman depicts this scene with an angular, abstracted power. (This is Flaxman’s equivalent of the “war-hug” that Melville imagines among the “flag-ships” in White-Jacket.) By depicting the human anguish against the self-contained calm of the circular shield (as well as a generous expanse of pristine, untouched paper), Flaxman, like Aeschylus, suggests wider, life-sustaining realms beyond the field of combat. Responding to those who see Flaxman’s outline engravings as “inert and bloodless,” Robert Rosenblum notes not only the great subtlety of their line and shading but also the deployment of shapes in space in a way that anticipates the spatial power of modern abstraction (Transformations, 158-78). This print exemplifies those qualities.