Semiramis Building Babylon is one of the oils that stayed in Edgar Degas’ studio until his passing. Unlike most of the artist’s favorite subject matters like ballet and horse races, this piece tells a mythological story. It is about Semiramis, that is an Assyrian Queen and one of responsible for the foundation of Babylon. Between the years of 1860 and 1865 the artist painted a couple of historical pieces, but soon his style and subject matter were turned into the ballet, making him one of the greatest ballet painters of all times.
This piece is dense and full of references, and some of them are so well placed that suggest that the artist would have carried out a proper historical research for it. This piece is from Degas’ early years, so the academic art is very present in it.
It is a horizontal composition, with a faint landscape on the back the focus wholly aimed at the characters from the scene. They are standing on a tall deck or construction. Semiramis is one of the few characters that looks into the horizon. She is dressed in a beautiful white robe with a dark belt around her waist. Her headpiece shows a historical reference from the Assyrian reliefs currently held in display at the Louvre. The characters gather behind her holding swords and a paper, their poses and gestures indicate some sort of ceremony. There is also a brown horse in the foreground, perfectly lined. The horse is geared up but has no saddle. The horse stands tall and has a dark tail. The legs near the hooves and face are white. Two women guide this horse towards Semiramis.
The construction where the stand is opulent and is built on geometrical forms. The floor is decorated with different colors of concentric squares. To the far left, there is an indication of a sort of carriage. To the left, there is the landscape. The vast blue sea occupies most of the area, but under this deck, there are some rooftops and windows. To the left, near the horizon, a large city is built. Even though the town is mostly faint and colored in beige and yellow, observing closer, it is possible to see plenty of details drawn in thin red lines. They line gates, towers, windows, and houses, creating a scenery of an immense town. Behind the town, there is a leafy landscape filled with green grass, trees, and a bright sky.
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