16 October 2023

Delacroix’s paintings
take me back to Venice
and to massacres in
the east Mediterranean

‘The Execution of the Doge Marino Faliero’ by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) in the Wallace Collection, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I was recalling yesterday how Charlotte and I recently spent an afternoon visiting the Wallace Collection, a museum in Hertford House in Manchester Square, London. There I was particularly interested in the collection of Canaletto paintings of Venice in the Wallace Collection.

But another great classical work took me back to Venice and has also reminded me in recent days of another painting that has me thinking of how massacres and acts of brutality seem to mark out the history of conflicts in the East Mediterranean for far too long.

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) painted ‘The Execution of the Doge Marino Faliero’ in 1825-1826. It is a work in oil on canvas and measures 145.6 x 113.8 cm. It was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1827 and is now in the West Gallery II in the Wallace Collection. This painting dates from a time when Delacroix briefly shared his studio with Richard Parkes Bonington whose influence can be seen in this painting.

The subject of the painting, Marino Faliero (1274-1355), was the short-lived 55th Doge of Venice. He was appointed on 11 September 1354, and was executed seven months later, accused of an attempted coup d’etat, on 17 April 1355.

Faliero was one of the three heads of the Council of Ten in 1315 when it was punishing the organisers of the conspiracy by Bajamonte Tiepolo in 1310. Faliero continued as a member of the council until 1320 and held the office of chief and inquisitor several times. He and Andrea Michiel organise killing Tiepolo and Pietro Querini, the only two leaders of the conspiracy still at large.

Faliero was a naval and a military commander and then a diplomat before he was elected Doge in 1354. He learned of his election while he was on a diplomatic mission to the papal court at Avignon. At the time, the people of Venice were disenchanted with the ruling aristocrats who were blamed for a naval defeat by the fleet of Genoa that year at the Battle of Portolungo.

Within months of his election, Faliero attempted a coup d’etat in April 1355, aimed at taking power from the ruling aristocrats. According to tradition, this came about because the dogaressa, Faliero’s second wife, Aluycia Gradenigo, had been insulted by Michele Steno, a member of an aristocratic family. However, in a study of the Doges of Venice, Antonella Grignola suggests Faliero’s move was consistent with a trend in Italian city states to move away from oligarchic government to absolute, dynastic rule.

The plot involved murdering the chief patricians on 15 April and proclaiming Faliero Prince of Venice. It was badly organised and was quickly discovered because of leaks from some of the key plotters.

The Council of Ten ordered the arrest the ringleaders, several conspirators were condemned to death, and others were jailed. Faliero pleaded guilty to all charges, he was beheaded on 17 April and his body was mutilated. Ten additional ringleaders were hanged on display from the Doge’s Palace in Piazza San Marco.

Faliero was condemned to damnatio memoriae. His portrait in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio or Hall of the Great Council in the Doge’s Palace was removed and the space painted over with a black shroud, thar can still be seen today. A Latin inscription on the shroud reads: Hic est locus Marini Faletro decapitati pro criminibus, ‘This is the space reserved for Marino Faliero, beheaded for his crimes.’

The story of Faliero’s failed plot inspired plays by Lord Byron (‘Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice’, 1821) and Casimir Delavigne (1829), and an opera by Gaetano Donizetti (1835). All three present the traditional story that Faliero was acting to defend his wife’s honour.

Eugène Delacroix’s painting in the Wallace Collection, with some variations from the text, is based on Byron’s ‘Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice,’ a blank verse tragedy in five acts published and first performed in 1821.

In Byron’s play, Faliero offends Steno, who retaliates by writing on the Doge’s throne an indecent libel on Faliero’s wife. Steno is tried by the Council of Forty and convicted, but is sentenced to only a month’s imprisonment.

Faliero is outraged by what he believes is an inadequate punishment for an affront to the ruling Doge. He secretly joins the plot to abolish the constitution of Venice and to take revenge on his enemies. The plot is discovered and Faliero is executed.

Byron was inspired to write his play when he viewed the portraits of the Doges in the Palazzo Ducale and saw how Faliero’s had been blacked out. Byron was living in Ravenna when he completed the play in July 1820, and it was published in April 1821, along with his ‘The Prophecy of Dante.’ He intended this play to be read rather than acted, and it was criticised for its neoclassical form and lack of sensationalism and love interest.

Delacroix’s painting depicts the Scala dei Giganti or Giant’s Staircase in the Doge’s Palace. But this is a much later addition to the palace, designed by the architect Antonio Rizzo in 1483-1491. There, at the top of the staircase, the newly elected Doge would receive the zoia or ‘crown’ and make the solemn pledge (promissio ducis) of allegiance to the Most Serene Republic.

Delacroix derived the costumes, some of the heads of the dignitaries and the rich colouring in his painting from Venetian Renaissance paintings. The elderly bearded man at the top of the stairs, for example, is based on Titian’s ‘Self-Portrait’ in Berlin.

The picture was a favourite of Delacroix himself, and it is said he estimated it higher than any other of his works. However, the painting’s lack of a strong moral message upset some of his contemporary critics.

Delacroix was a pupil of Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1774-1833), and was deeply influenced by Rubens and the 16th century Venetian masters whose paintings he copied in the Louvre. He was also interested in the works of Dante, Goethe and Tasso and in English art and literature.

Delacroix visited London in 1825, accompanied by Bonington. By then, he was an established leader of the Romantic painters, and the word ‘Romantic’ has been associated with his name ever since.

Perhaps the painting that most help to establish his reputation was ‘The Massacres at Chios’ (1824), depicting the Massacre of Chios two years earlier in April 1822, one of the many horrific events during the Greek War of Independence. The details of this massacre continue to shock and to horrify people as they learn about it.

The island of Chios is an Aegean island that is often counted as one of the Dodecanese islands, and it is just 8 km off the main Anatolian coast of Turkey. The Chians or Chiots – the islanders of Chios – never joined in the Greek War of Independence, and enjoyed many privileges under Ottoman rule, including a degree of autonomy, religious freedom, property rights, and exemptions from many taxes on houses, vineyards, orchards and trade.

The islanders had avoided threats of forced conversion to Islam experienced on so many other Greek islands, and they were exempt from the devshirme, in which the fittest and strongest boys in families were captured or conscripted and sent to Constantinople, where they were trained as janissaries, an elite and brutal corps.

The island was known for the production of mastic, silk and citrus fruits, and for its sea trade. Many merchant families from Chios dealt in banking, insurance and shipping and founded merchant houses in England, Italy and the Netherlands. Traders from Chios settled in Smyrna, Constantinople, Odessa and other Black Sea ports.

It is easy to understand why the people of Chios rebutted an appeal to support a naval assault on the Ottoman Empire in April 1821. But, a year later, in April 1822, a small number of people from Chios joined a small band from the neighbouring island of Samos who attacked the small Turkish garrison on Chios. A small number of soldiers were killed. But the response and retribution were swift, brutal and merciless.

The bloodbath began on Easter Day 1822 and continued for several months. In a revenge attack in June 1822, Greek insurgents from the neighbouring island of Psara attacked a flagship of the Ottoman navy anchored in the harbour of Chios while its sailors were marking the end of Ramadan. In all, 2,000 men were killed in one assault. A second wave of savagery was then unleashed against the people of Chios.

The original population of the island was 100,000 to 120,000. At least 30,000 people were murdered or executed or died by suicide or disease, and another 45,000 people were sold into slavery. Whole villages were wiped out. Of the survivors, about 20,000 people managed to flee to safety on islands under Greek rule.

Richard Calvocoressi, a descendant of one such family from Chios, wrote last year in the New Statesman: ‘For months afterwards the slave markets of the Levant were glutted with Chian boys, girls and young women, for sale at knock-down prices; and for many, slavery meant sexual slavery.’

The massacre inspired Eugène Delacroix’s Scenes from the Massacres at Chios or Scènes des massacres de Scio, completed in 1824. It is an enormous painting in the Louvre seen by millions of visitors each year.

The massacre caused an outcry throughout Europe. Reports of the massacre, Delacroix’s painting and Byron’s writings encouraged Philhellenes to redouble their efforts in support of Greek independence from Ottoman oppression. But Ottoman rule continued for another 90 years, and Chios did not become part of the modern Greek state until 1912.

Although the composer Mikis Theodorakis (1925-2021) is popularly identified with Crete and was buried there when he died two years ago, he was born on the island of Chios.

Today, Chios is the fifth largest of the Greek islands, and is one of the Aegean islands that have become a centre for asylum seekers and refugees seeking to arrive in Europe.

Now, over 200 years after the Massacre of Chios, it is hard not to think of those merchants in Odessa and the brutality in Ukraine today; it is hard not to think of the refugees and slaves created by the massacre; it is hard not to think of the refugees and asylum seekers who arrive in Chios and other Greek islands in the hope of finding freedom today; and it is hard not to be reminded of the massacres, murders, brutality and responses in recent days in other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean, in Israel and Gaza.

‘Scenes from the Massacres at Chios’, Eugène Delacroix (1824), in the Louvre in Paris … the massacre began on Easter Day 1822

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (141) 16 October 2023,
Week of Prayer for World Peace (2)

‘Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace’ … the Week of Prayer for World Peace was initiated by the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship in 1974

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and the week began with the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XIX, 15 October 2023). The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today remembers Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, and Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, Reformation Martyrs (1555).

Before today begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer and reflection.

The Week of Prayer for World Peace began yesterday, and so my reflections each morning this week are gathered around this theme in these ways:

1, A reflection on the Week of Prayer for World Peace ;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Week of Prayer for World Peace began with ‘A Call to Prayer for World Peace’ signed by faith leaders in 1974

A Week of Prayer for World Peace:

The Week of Prayer for World Peace is a global initiative created by the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship in 1974. It soon became an interfaith activity, and now welcomes everyone, of all faith traditions or none.

The first chair, the Very Revd Dr Edward Carpenter, was Dean of Westminster Abbey, and he established the guiding principle of the Week in the words: ‘The peace of the world must be prayed for by the faiths of the world.’ This continues to be the basis of that work today.

Those proposing the Week of Prayer for World Peace in 1974 said ‘Patience will need to be an essential feature of this united act of prayer so that we may all not only learn from the past errors but also be open to fresh insights which the unprecedented modern situation demands.’

Sadly, these words are still pertinent today, in the third decade of the 21st century.

The organisers of the Week of Prayer for World Peace say they are convinced that there is only one humanity praying to one supreme Creator, with whatever different opinions we may have on what that may be. They recognise that interfaith partnership does not in itself imply agreement.

The Week of Prayer for World Peace invites all people to join in praying for peace on our shared earth under one sky. ‘The things we agree on are many and precious. What we disagree on is precious too. We stand alongside all who pray for peace with us as partners and friends.’

‘The peace of the world must be prayed for by the faiths of the world’ … the first chair of the Week of Prayer for World Peace, the Very Revd Edward Carpenter of Westminster Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 11: 29-32 (NRSVA):

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise at the judgement with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! 32 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!’

The Week of Prayer for World Peace began on Sunday 15 October 2023

The International Prayer For Peace:

Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth
Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust
Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe

Today’s Prayers: A Week of Prayer for World Peace:

Day 2, Families: For those in areas of conflict and those who are displaced:

God, please protect those who have fled their homes, especially children, the elderly, and people who are disabled, as they are among the most vulnerable. We ask in Your name to restore communities, re-unite families and repair this country. – Venezuelan refugee (World Vision)

O Allah, the Source of Peace and Comfort, we pray for families in conflict and hurt, in the midst of turmoil, their spirits bruised.

Grant them solace, O Lord, and help them through.

O Allah, unite their families once more; with love and harmony, their hearts restore.

Grant them stability, security, and ease, and bless them with a future filled with peace. Amen – Islamic

Love One Another

Of one heart and one mind I make you, devoid of hate.
Love one another, as a cow loves the calf she has borne.
Let the son be courteous to his father, of one mind with his mother.
Let the wife speak words that are gentle and sweet to her husband.
Never may brother hate brother or sister hurt sister.
United in heart and in purpose, commune sweetly together.

I will utter a prayer for such concord among family members
as binds together the gods,
among whom is no hatred.

Be courteous, planning and working in harness together.
Approach, conversing pleasantly, like-minded, united.
Have your eating and drinking in common.
I bind you together.

Assemble for worship of the Lord, like spokes around a hub.
Of one mind and one purpose I make you, following one leader.
Be like the gods, ever deathless! Never stop loving!

This hymn is a meditation on the truth that all people are bound together like spokes around a hub. To be like the gods and never to see death means one thing – never stop loving. – Atharva Veda, Hindu

‘Of one heart and one mind I make you, devoid of hate’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayers: USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Helpline to women in need.’ This theme was introduced yesterday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (16 October 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

As yesterday was International Day of Rural Women, let us pray for programmes run by USPG’s partner churches in various parts of the world, aimed at empowering women and girls living in rural areas.

The Collect:

O God, forasmuch as without you
we are not able to please you;
mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Holy and blessed God,
you have fed us with the body and blood of your Son
and filled us with your Holy Spirit:
may we honour you,
not only with our lips
but in lives dedicated to the service
of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

‘Never may brother hate brother or sister hurt sister. United in heart and in purpose, commune sweetly together’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org