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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Saint Philip the Deacon and the Eunuch

Théodore Chassériau (French, 1819–1856)
Saint Philip Baptizing the Eunuch of the Queen of Ethiopia, 1852 (?)
Oil, gouache, black chalk on paper glued to canvas; 32 1/8 x 14 3/4 in. (81.6 x 37.5 cm)
Private Collection


As a theme, the theme is not a common one depicted in art.

The story (Acts, 8.26:40) concerns a eunuch, the treasurer of Candace, The Queen of Ethiopia, who was on his way back from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He met Saint Philip the Evangelist, one of the original seven deacons . The eunuch, after inviting to ride with him, asked the saint questions about the Bible, which Philip carefully explained. The eunuch had been reading from the Book of Isaiah (chapter 53). As they passed by a river, the eunuch asked to be baptized. Philip agreed only after the eunuch confirmed that he believed with all his heart.

The painting of St Philip and the Eunuch by Chassériau was part of a cycle of paintings which he completed for the Church of St Roch in Paris. (1852-53)

Chassériau was the son of a French consul in Santo Domingo and a Creole woman, Chassériau, was a precocious disciple of Ingres. He started his studies at the age of ten

He was a Romantic, an admirer of Eugéne Delacroix. He went to Algiers and embraced Orientalism. He had a predilection for Orientalist imagery He died at the very young age of 37

His oeuvre is large: historical, religious, and Orientalist subjects as well as his portraits

One of Chassériau's masterpieces is the painting portraying the Reverend Father Dominique Lacordaire of the Order of the Preaching Friars (1802-1861), presently in the Louvre