John William Waterhouse finished the oil painting entitled The Favourites of the Emperor Honorius in 1883. The artist also concluded two studies prior the final artwork. In The Favourites of the Emperor Honorius study, he used a different viewpoint and a brighter color pallet, while in Study for the Favourites of the Emperor Honorius I, has a similar composition but has loose and sketchy brushstrokes in shades of gray. Honorius was a Roman Emperor that ruled from the years 393 to 423 and Rome was sacked during his reign, after about 800 years of peace.
In the final painting, Waterhouse used a long, horizontal canvas and creating a diagonal line as he layered the characters into the composition. In the forefront, to the left, the Emperor sits on his decorated thrown while feeding the pigeons and chickens. He features dark hair and a golden crown, as well as a blood-red robe with gold embellishments. He comfortably sits back in his chair, looking down at a couple of pigeons that feed on his hand. With his other hand, Honorius holds a large gold plate on his lap, possibly with seeds. The back of his chair has beautiful checkered details and elements of the Roman architecture, like the pediment (the triangle on top), as well three arcs with sacred images inside. Next to the Emperor, a bronze incense holder on a tripod expels thin white smoke. The artist includes a white and a black bird over the main figure’s head, possibly a use of symbology.
The surroundings are filled with decorative elements, like patterned curtains and other fabrics. The dark shades of red and brown repeat in the patterned carpet that extends in the forefront. Many other birds appear in front of the Emperor, eating seeds that were thrown on the carpet. Two large gray birds on the right, similar to chickens, stand out from the rest. The background shows a row of councilors bowing to their leader in hopes of his attention. They are dressed in light-colored garments, typical of the political men of the time, and most featured holy images on the fabrics. The floor was depicted with different colored stones in geometric patterns, an influence of the Academies. The environment also shows many Roman columns, along with a sculpture in the far background.
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