On several occasions, Delacroix drew his inspiration from Byron, among whose works The Giaour furnished the subject for several pictures. The poem, published in 1813, was so successful that it
was reprinted eight times in seven months. Its story is darkly Romantic: a slave, Leila, unfaithful to her master, the Turk Hassan, is bound and thrown into the sea. Her lover, the Giaour (the
derogatory term applied by the Turks to all non-Moslems, but especially Christians), avenges her by killing Hassan.
The canvas seen here is doubtless one of the most beautiful of the series. The commentator at the Davin sale of March, 1863, in which it was sold, vaunted its "proud and terrifying movement," its "profoundly felt passion," its "marvelous color, going with supreme ease from the most powerful of tones to the most charming delicacy."
The painting is as beautiful as Rubens, who with the same kind of fury painted similar groups in such works as the Battle of the Amazons in the Munich museum. Comparing Delacroix to Diego Velazquez, Delacroix has his slightly wild style, his silvery and sometimes greenish tones, his harshness of touch, his superb effects. Delacroix is no more Spanish than he is Venetian or Flemish.
Few works indeed can be said to hold within the narrow limits of a small easel painting so much violent intensity. The earth quakes beneath the awful clash of the two charging horses, the air vibrates with the flash of the murderous blades.