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The 1848 Revolution in France was part of a crisis that shook all of Europe in the mid-19th century, profoundly marking the Romantic spirit of certain artists. This was certainly the case for the painter Théophile Schuler, who was born in Strasbourg and studied with his fellow Alsatian Martin Drolling in Paris, and then with Paul Delaroche, who introduced him to history painting. The Chariot of Death, a painting completed in 1848, exorcises the inner turmoil of that year’s dramatic events in Europe. Inspired as much by Holbein’s macabre series of woodcuts known as the Dance of Death as by the Romantic fascination with esoterica and the afterlife, Schuler creates a bold composition with rich iconographic details. Astride a chariot drawn by thirteen horses reduced to skeletons galloping through a desolate graveyard, across gaping tombs, Death gathers up every being in its path, without distinction of class, not least of whom a king vainly attempting to hold onto his crown. The arts are not spared either, presented in the form of their female personifications. Also in evidence is the tombstone, at the centre of the composition, bearing the name of the artist.
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