Ary Scheffer, The Death of Géricault

Ary Scheffer (1795 - 1858): Neoclassicism (1760s - 1850s)

Art history is replete with painters who have left an indelible mark on the canvas of time, and Ary Scheffer is undoubtedly one of them. Born in the midst of the Neoclassical era, his artistic journey unfolded against the backdrop of a period marked by a fascination with the classical past. Let's embark on a journey through the life, art style, and notable works of Ary Scheffer, a luminary of Neoclassicism.

Early Life and Background

Ary Scheffer was born on February 10, 1795, in Dordrecht, a picturesque city in the Netherlands. He hailed from a family deeply entrenched in the arts, as his father was a portrait painter and his mother was a writer. This familial artistic legacy undoubtedly played a role in nurturing young Scheffer's creative inclinations.

Education and Training

Scheffer's artistic talents were recognized at an early age, prompting his enrollment at the drawing academy in Dordrecht. His burgeoning skills led him to Paris in 1811, where he joined the studio of the acclaimed French painter Jacques-Louis David. Under David's guidance, Scheffer imbibed the principles of Neoclassicism, a movement characterized by a reverence for classical art, a focus on reason and order, and a predilection for historical and mythological themes.

The Neoclassical Art Style

Neoclassicism, spanning from the 1760s to the 1850s, sought to revive the aesthetics of ancient Greece and Rome, echoing themes of heroism, virtue, and grandeur. Scheffer embraced this style, infusing his works with emotional depth, graceful compositions, and a meticulous attention to detail. His paintings often depicted scenes from history, literature, and mythology, resonating with the intellectual currents of the time.

20 Notable Artworks

1. The Temptation of Christ (1820)

A poignant portrayal of Christ's struggle in the desert, capturing his inner turmoil and spiritual conflict.

2. Faust and Marguerite (1831)

Scheffer delves into Goethe's Faust, encapsulating the tragic love story between Faust and Marguerite with a blend of Romantic sensibility and Neoclassical form.

3. Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta Appraised by Dante and Virgil (1835)

Inspired by Dante's Inferno, this work conveys the eternal torment of the adulterous lovers Francesca and Paolo in the second circle of Hell.

4. Gaston de Foix Dying in the Battle of Ravenna (1834)

Scheffer captures the poignant last moments of Gaston de Foix, a French military commander, on the battlefield.

5. Saint Augustine and Saint Monica (1846)

Depicting the revered theologian Saint Augustine and his mother Monica, the painting exudes a sense of spiritual devotion and maternal affection.

6. Mignon (1836)

Drawing from Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Scheffer's portrayal of the delicate and enigmatic Mignon showcases his adeptness at capturing character nuances.

7. The Ghosts of Paolo and Francesca Appear to Dante and Virgil (1855)

A somber continuation of the theme from Francesca da Rimini, this painting conveys the spectral visitation of the ill-fated lovers to Dante and Virgil.

8. Saint John in Patmos (1817)

An early work showcasing Scheffer's mastery in conveying intricate emotions, as he portrays the contemplative Saint John exiled on the island of Patmos.

9. The Death of Géricault (1824)

A tribute to his close friend and fellow painter, Théodore Géricault, Scheffer's painting captures the mournful passing of an artistic soul.

10. The Shades of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta Appear to Dante and Virgil (1855)

Continuing the narrative, Scheffer represents the spirits of the doomed lovers visiting Dante and Virgil.

11. Sappho and Phaon (1819)

Drawing from ancient Greek mythology, this painting portrays the love story between the poetess Sappho and the ferryman Phaon.

12. Dante and Virgil Encountering the Shades of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta (1855)

A vital scene from the Divine Comedy, Scheffer captures the interaction between Dante, Virgil, and the ill-fated lovers in the afterlife.

13. Self-Portrait (1819)

An introspective portrayal, this self-portrait showcases Scheffer's keen ability to capture both external likeness and inner contemplation.

14. Mignon at the Harp (1839)

A thematic continuation of Mignon, this painting showcases the enigmatic character immersed in her musical reverie.

15. Marguerite Praying (1836)

A contemplative depiction of Marguerite in prayer, encapsulating her search for redemption and solace.

16. Stella and Vanessa (1850)

Scheffer explores themes of love and friendship, drawing inspiration from Jonathan Swift's correspondence with Esther Johnson and Vanessa Vanhomrigh.

17. Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta (1851)

The artist revisits the tragic tale of Francesca and Paolo, exploring the theme with renewed emotional depth.

18. Maria Deraismes (1862)

A posthumous portrait of the prominent French feminist Maria Deraismes, showcasing Scheffer's ability to capture the essence of contemporary figures.

19. Lady Macbeth Sleepwalking (1838)

Scheffer delves into Shakespearean tragedy, depicting Lady Macbeth in a haunting moment of sleepwalking.

20. The Death of Saint Louis (1842)

A departure from the mythological and literary themes, this painting portrays the demise of King Louis IX of France.


Ary Scheffer's artistic legacy stands as a testament to his profound engagement with Neoclassicism, as he skillfully navigated historical, mythological, and literary narratives. His ability to infuse emotions into classical forms and themes cemented his place in the annals of art history. As we gaze upon his paintings, we are transported to a world where the past is reimagined through the lens of a masterful storyteller.


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