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Last Words of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius

Last Words of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius
ArtistEugène Delacroix
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions348 cm × 260 cm (137 in × 100 in)
LocationMusée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon

Last Words of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius is an 1844 painting by the French artist Eugène Delacroix, now in the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon. A preliminary sketch of the painting that was given to Delacroix's student Louis de Planet is also kept in the museum.

Description and analysis

This large painting depicts the last hours of the life of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, as Delacroix admired the Stoics and particularly Marcus Aurelius. The character is represented in the center of the painting as an old, sick man who grabs the arm of a young man dressed in red, namely his son Commodus (Lucius Aurelius Commodus Antoninus). Commodus seems not to pay attention to what his father wants to say and has a haughty look. Around them, Marcus Aurelius' philosopher friends who are present around the bed are portrayed as sad men dressed in black.[1]

Thus, the painting represents the end of the Roman Empire. Delacroix, who was fascinated by the red color after his travel to North Africa in 1832, draws the viewer's attention to Commodus by garbing him in bright red. It appears that the painting has no moral aspect, as the message that Delacroix wanted to convey in this work remains unknown.[2]


The first text which speaks of the painting is the catalog of the Salon of 1845 where it was exposed, which reads: "The figure of Marcus Aurelius, indeed sick and almost dying, seems to us in a too early decomposing state; the shades of green and yellow which hammer his face give him a quite cadaverous appearance", "some draperies may be too crumpled" and "some attitudes show a lack of nobility".[3] The work received mostly negative reviews, but the writer Charles Baudelaire appreciated it and said: "A beautiful, huge, sublime, misunderstood picture [...]. The color [...], far from losing its cruel originality in this new and more complete scene, is still bloody and terrible".[1]


  1. ^ a b "Eugène Delacroix (Saint-Maurice, 1798 - Paris, 1863), Dernières paroles de l'empereur Marc Aurèle" (in French). Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
  2. ^ Cécilia de Varine. "L'exposition et ses publics: l'espace d'une rencontre" (PDF) (in French). Irevues. Archived from the original (pdf) on 24 February 2012. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
  3. ^ "Salon de 1845, feuilleton de la presse du 11 mars 1845 (translation in French by Valérie Pythoud)" (in French). Théophile Gauthier. Archived from the original on March 2, 2010. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
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Last Words of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius
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