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Home>Collection & Louvre Palace>Curatorial Departments>Satan and Beelzebub

Satan et Belzébuth debout, de face, dominant des nuées enflammées

Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Beck-Coppola

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Author(s):
Morin Alexia, Grollemund Helene

The outstanding English portrait painter of his generation, Lawrence produced a surprising work in this "diabolical" drawing, which in both its dimensions and its subject matter is extremely unusual in his oeuvre. In this study for Satan calling up his Legions (London, Royal Academy of Arts), he reveals his obsession with the Grand Style and, by extension, the influence of his master Joshua Reynolds (1723-92).

Satan as Warlord

Exhibited in 1797, this study by Lawrence for his "reception piece" at the Royal Academy of Arts in London is the most complete of the eight known preliminary drawings. Virtually the entire composition is animated by two monumental figures: Satan and Beelzebub, who face the viewer, towering above the fiery clouds. Naked and wearing a helmet of antique style, Satan is depicted standing firm and raising his hands up in a gesture of power. Beelzebub, also naked, leans with both hands on a spear. The two figures display the combined influence of Michelangelo and Reynolds. The image of Satan as melodramatic hero reflects the principal features of the painter's metaphysics of hell, namely grandeur and darkness, but the work hovers between the sublime and the grandiloquent.

Towards another Paradise?

The drawing adapts a passage from John Milton's Paradise Lost, first published in 1667, describing the temptations engineered by Satan to bring about the fall of man. Lawrence focuses on Milton's description of Satan's proud bearing as he stands on the brink of the "dark illimitable ocean", accompanied by his faithful companion Beelzebub. This is the very moment at which Satan takes counsel and exhorts his demonic legions to go to war in conquest of a new world. Lawrence here renders Milton's literary hero in pictorial form - the ambitious, passionate rebel who so fascinated the Romantics.

A unique work

Around 1795, Lawrence, painter to the king and member of the Royal Academy, began to grow weary of being considered merely as a fashionable portrait painter. He wanted instead to confirm his reputation as a history painter, and to return to the ideal of his recently deceased master Reynolds: the Grand Style. In his choice of subject matter and imagery he was not breaking new ground, as the British-naturalized Swiss-born painter Henry Fuseli also exhibited a Satan at Christie's shortly afterwards. This was one of the paintings of the Milton Gallery, an immense project dedicated to Milton on which Fuseli had been working since 1790. His initial version of Satan, completed before August 1790, bore a strong resemblance to the figure presented by Lawrence, whom he accused of plagiarism.
Satan calling up his Legions did not enjoy great success when put on public display, but it nevertheless remains one of the most astonishing works of Thomas Lawrence's early career.

Bibliography

Armstrong Walter, Lawrence, London, 1913, p. 192.
English Drawings and Watercolours, 1700-1920, London, Galerie Colnaghi, 1979, n 25, pl. III and cover.
Garlick Kenneth, A Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings and Pastels of Sir Thomas Lawrence, London, The Walpole Society, vol. 39, 1962-4, p. 225, n 1.
Michel Régis, Le Beau idéal ou l'art du concept, exhibition, Paris, Cabinet des dessins, musée du Louvre, 17 October-31 December 1989, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1989, pp. 38-9, 158, n 18.
Pointon Marcia, Milton and English Art, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1970, p. 115, fig. 104.
Sérullaz Arlette, in Acquisitions du Cabinet des dessins: 1973-1983. 81e exposition du Cabinet des dessins, Paris, musée du Louvre, 16 March-4 June 1984, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1984, n 152, p. 100, repr. 101.
Sérullaz Arlette, "Un Dessin de Sir Thomas Lawrence", Revue du Louvre, 1981, pp. 33-6, fig. 1.Sir Thomas Lawrence, PRA, 1769-1830, exhibition, London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1961, n 77.

Technical description

  • Sir Thomas LAWRENCE (Bristol, 1769 - London, 1830)

    Satan and Beelzebub

    1795-1797

  • Black chalk, white highlights on brown paper

    H. 12.7 cm; W. 7.1 cm

  • The artist's studio; sale, London, 18 June 1831, lot number 157; Sir Lee Knowles (1857-1928) and his descendants; W. A. Brandt; Colnaghi, London. Purchased in 1980.

    4038363

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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