Capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders
© RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / René-Gabriel Ojéda
Publication date: December 2019
CNRS Researcher Center for Research on Arts and Language
Louis-Philippe, enthroned "King of the French" on August 9, 1830 after the Three Glorious Days (July 27-29, 1830), was passionate about history like his entire century. In 1833, he designed a museum dedicated to "all the Glories of France" in the Palace of Versailles: part of the royal apartments were transformed to accommodate this Museum of the History of France, which evokes the heyday of France. national history.
The Salle des Croisades was inaugurated there in May 1843, six years after the Galerie des Batailles (June 1837). History painting is used to represent the episodes of these wars which took place between the XIe and the XIIIe centuries: battles, sieges, capture of towns, agreements, preaching… In total, one hundred and twenty-five paintings were produced by numerous academic painters (Merry-Joseph Blondel, Dominique Papety, François Marius Granet, Henri Delaborde…). Eugène Delacroix, leader of the Romantic painters in the 1820s, also took part in this program: in 1838, the Fine Arts administration commissioned him to produce a painting of almost square format and large dimensions on the subject of "The Prize". of Constantinople by the Crusaders ”.
Delacroix’s painting represents the outcome of a military expedition that had begun several years earlier. Launched by Pope Innocent III in 1198, the Fourth Crusade was led by Boniface de Montferrat and Baudouin de Flandre. The Crusaders were to attack Egypt, and they had received significant financial assistance from the Republic of Venice. But, rather than reach Egypt, the Crusaders and the Venetians headed for Constantinople, where the Byzantine power was in the grip of serious dissension.
In 1195, Emperor Isaac II Angel was driven from the throne and imprisoned by his brother, who took the name of Alexis III. In 1202, the son of Isaac II Ange offered the Crusaders to pay them 200,000 marks in exchange for their help in re-establishing his father on the throne. The leaders of the Crusaders accept the proposal. They launched their troops to assault Constantinople on July 17, 1203 and scared the Emperor Alexius III to flight. Isaac II Angel finds his throne, the power being shared with his son, Alexis IV Angel. But the population of Constantinople, overwhelmed by the emperor's alliance with the Crusaders, revolted. Overthrown at the start of 1204, Isaac II Angel and his son were replaced by a new emperor, Alexis V Murzuphle, who manifested his hostility towards the Latins. On April 9, 1204, the Crusaders attacked Constantinople and on April 12, they seized the city, which they sacked. On May 16, 1204, Baudouin of Flanders was elected emperor and shared the empire between the Franks and the Venetians.
These events were briefly summed up in the Salon booklet of 1841: “Baudouin, Count of Flanders, commanded the French who had stormed from the land side, and the old doge Dandolo, at the head of the Venetians, and on his ships, had attacked the port; the principal chiefs roam the various districts of the city, and the grieving families come on their way to invoke their clemency ”.
The scene takes place at the end of the battle, on the heights of Constantinople. In the background, the city stretches along the Golden Horn. The horizon line placed very high, the imposing architecture with its ancient columns, the smoke of the fires which obscures a stormy sky, the foreground occupied by hostile horsemen, the faces of the Crusaders plunged into a worrying half-light, everything suggests the violence of the "French". Baldwin of Flanders, mounted on a horse still excited by the battle and trampling on helmets and ensigns, towers over an old man who implores his clemency: clothed in a derisory purple, supported by a young woman, he is placed in full light, in a stark contrast to the winners.
Among the crusaders, behind Baudouin we can see the Venetian Enrico Dandolo, his head covered with a helmet surrounded by ermine fur. Carrying the standards of the crusaders, in sinister red and black colors, the Latin chiefs accompany the Count of Flanders. On both sides of this troop, the signs of the Greeks' defeat are everywhere: kneeling soldiers, women crushed in pain, scenes of looting in the background. The darkened colors are barely lit by the bent back of a young captive who holds a passed out woman in her arms. Another woman sank down at the foot of an old man held back by a crusader: it may be the Patriarch of Constantinople, who refuses to submit to the Pope and restore the "unity" of the two Churches broken by the schism of 1054.
The Hall of the Crusades at the Palace of Versailles was imagined in 1837, after the Ottoman Sultan Mahmoud II had offered Louis-Philippe the door of the knights of the order of the hospital of Saint-Jean-de-Jerusalem, installed in Rhodes in the XIVe century. This Hall responds to a political intention: to demonstrate the desire for reconciliation between the Orleanists and the Legitimists, whose families enjoyed cultivating the memory of the Crusades. But Delacroix’s painting stands out from this political and historical program, and it is more reminiscent of a work that had won him great success in 1824, in the midst of the Greek War of Independence: The Massacres of Scio, whose composition and subject present similar features with the Capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders.
The Capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders, which, by the richness of the decorations, recalls Rubens as much as orientalist painting, differs from the other paintings that the neoclassical painters (Papety, Odier, Blondel) composed on a similar theme for the Louis-Philippe museum: capture of Jerusalem , Edessa, Antioch, Tripoli, etc ... To the crusaders illuminated by the sun, crosses clearly visible on the bright banners, to the univocal scenes showing the triumph of arms and force, Delacroix prefers a tumultuous atmosphere, ambivalent, a dark climate, where we do not see any cross, neither Greek nor Latin. Darkening the glory of Baudoin, conqueror of an empire long coveted by the greed of Westerners, he draws attention to the distress of the Greeks: a tragic vision of a crusade in which the French and the Venetians heroically plunder one of the lesser cities. most famous of the Orient.
- Louis Philippe
- Three Glorious
- Museum of the History of France
- history painting
- Innocent III (pope)
- Montferrat (Boniface de)
- Flanders (Baudouin de)
- Isaac II Angel
- Mahmoud II
Jean Flori, The Crusades, Editions Jean-Paul Gisserot, 2001.
Jacques Heers, Fall and death of Constantinople, Perrin, Tempus, 2007.
Michel Butor, Dialogue with Delacroix, Virgile editions, 2008.
Sébastien Allard et alii, Eugène Delacroix, El Viso, 2011.
Michel Balard, Crusades and the Latin East, Armand Colin, 2017.
Sébastien Allard and Côme Fabre (dir.), Delacroix, Hazan-Musée du Louvre, 2018.
To cite this article
Christophe CORBIER, "The Capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders"