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The Justice of Trajan

Eugène Delacroix

(1798 - 1863) | D.844.1.1

Date : 1840 | Medium : Oil on canvas

Delacroix exhibited this painting at the Salon in 1840, then again at a retrospective of his work at the 1855 Universal Expo in Paris. The subject is taken from Dante’s Purgatory (Canto X), and the artist included a long extract of the poem, translated by his friend Antoni Deschamps, in the accompanying booklet.

It was probably Frédéric Villot, conservator at the Louvre, who pointed Delacroix towards this episode in which the Roman Emperor Trajan, the archetype of a just leader, is setting out on campaign when he is stopped by a widow demanding justice for the death of her son. The Emperor yields to her pleas and, accepting her demands, postpones his departure. As always, the critics were divided in their reactions to the work, with Baudelaire and Gautier marking it out for particular praise. It was immediately acquired by the State to be sent to Bordeaux but on the request of the artist, who wished to honour the memory of Géricault, it was ultimately conserved in the Musée de Rouen. The museum also has several preparatory drawings for the painting in its collections.