I bet you know that feeling. When you feel that that move will change everything. A moment suspended between the thunder and the beginning of the storm.
We’re talking about the rebellion of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282. To provide the painting with historical truth, Hayez went to the church of the Holy Spirit in Palermo and read up on what that place would have looked like five hundred years earlier.
How does the artist tell us about this historical event? On one hand, through different shades of colors: lighter in the background, they become darker in the middle ground and bolder toward the foreground thus isolating the main group in an overcrowded scene.
On the other hand, the graven lines of the faces, the spread of light and shadow and the dynamic of gazes altogether emphasize the drama.
Action gains a definitely theatrical nature, as if we were at the peak of a show! After attempting to use violence against the fainted dame, the French soldier Drouet dyingly kneels, pierced by the husband’s sword.
In a romantic spirit, Hayez combines history and theatricality by recreating the spark moment: the instant before the outbreak of the insurrection that will go down as the Sicilian Vespers.
I vespri siciliani (1846) by Francesco HayezLa Galleria Nazionale
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