Together with Eugène Delacroix, Prosper Georges Antoine Marilhat was one of the earliest and most influential figures in the development of French Orientalist painting. In 1831, at the recommendation of his painting instructor, Camille Roqueplan, Marilhat traveled to the Near East with an Austrian politician and botanist named Baron Karl von Hügel. It was on this expedition that he first visited Greece, Syria, Libya, Palestine and Egypt, ultimately spending two years in the latter. He returned with numerous studies and sketches, valuable not only for their artistic merit, but for their importance as topographical records of the distinctive terrain.
Sunset at Syracuse depicts the ancient center once described by Cicero as "the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all." The Greek theater, modified in Roman times, is depicted in the foreground, while the curving architectural structure to the left is the remains of the Roman aqueduct. Here Marilhat successfully captures the clear, brilliant light of the Mediterranean, creating dramatic contrasts between the shadowed foreground and the sun drenched middle- and backgrounds. The low lying architectural structures remain deliberately unobtrusive, creating a visual and physical harmony with the natural landscape enhanced by Marilhat's keen sense of perspective. Sunset at Syracuse provides a historical account of this important Greek city as well as a compelling window onto its timeless beauty.
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