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During the XIXth century Europeans developed a fascination for the Eastern world. The Ottoman Empire, the North of Africa and Egypt were some of the regions that symbolized the romantic tendency towards this unknown sensuality. The far East (Asia) was still too far to travel pleasurable. And Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt had just brought this mysterious lands closer thus opening a world of fantasies that acted as a magnet to wealthy cultivated families as well as many artists.

Eugene Delacroix was one of those artists, perhaps the most famous one. He was not only a true romantic painter and a convinced orientalist, he was also one of the forefathers of traveling notebooks. The great French painter traveled to Spain and the North of Africa in 1832. He traveled as part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco soon after the conquest of Algeria by the French. He wanted to escape the asphyxiating airs of Paris society and meet human beings living in a more primitive stage. Over a hundred paintings resulted from this tour as well as countless drawings of little towns and their daily routine. These paintings are nowadays a main attraction in a good many museums around the world, and are probably the most representative collection of Orientalist Painting there is.

Delacroix’s travels accounted for a good source of inspiration. As he traveled from one place to another he did not stop drawing in his notebooks, taking notes about colors and writing his impressions. This notebooks were published not long ago and can be acquired in wonderful editions. There is, however, something a bit strange about the notebooks for there is not a single mention of Spain. Most likely there are some notebooks missing and pages of them stolen and sold. There are, though, some isolated drawings of his passing through Spain at the Bonnat and Louvre Museums.

Among all those drawings and sketches in his notebooks we find a quick drawing of a Córdona church’s crossing, so it says his handwriting at the bottom of the 14x9 cm work piece. The church is not easily recognizable. It does not look like a Fernandina church as the crossing is surmounted by a dome. Although I still have my doubts for at the time of Delacroix’s visit to Córdoba some Fernandinas churches were disguised as Baroque churches, for example the Saint Pablo church we now know has nothing to do with the one previous to the 1900 restorations and we may never know how it then looked. The likely candidates are the churches of Saint Victoria, La Compañía, Saint Rafael, La Trinidad, Saint Francisco or Saint Ana. These are just the first ones to pop into my head and I am sure there must be one I did not mention. As of today, the church of Saint Victoria still exhibits lamp holders in the shape of angels very similar to those in Delacroix’s drawing.

However I suggest you find out for yourselves and if you do so and guess which one of the Córdoba churches match Eugene’s drawing, be sure to let me know.

There are other drawings of Spain made by Delacroix exhibited at the Louvre Museum. They are interesting because they tell us where he went in Spain. Delacroix was not especially interested in Spain, he needed to cross it in order to reach the North of Africa. Nevertheless he made the most of it.

 

The drawing above depicts the galleries of the Rábida Monastery in Palos de la Frontera (Huelva). This drawing might be telling us that he could have sail from Huelva to Morocco. The size of it is almost identical to the drawing of the Córdoba church, so it is very likely that the two of them belonged to the same notebook.

 

And this other drawing, also exhibited at the Louvre, also similar in size, depicts a popular square in Sevilla. I am sure that anyone from Sevilla would immediately recognize it, I am afraid I can’t.


 

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