Expulsion from the Garden of Eden
A Christian Dirce is Siemiradzki’s final large-scale history painting. It shows a re-enactment of a Greek myth – performed at the behest of Emperor Nero – in which Dirce, the queen of Thebes, is put to death by being tied to the horns of a bull and smashed against rocks. According to the writings of the Roman historian Suetonius, Nero decreed that during the games in the amphitheatre, a beautiful young Christian girl was to suffer the same fate.
Here, Siemiradzki shows the conclusion of that ruthless spectacle – the moment in which the pleased emperor examines the lifeless girl and the felled beast. The painting’s composition reflects the theatrical and spectacular arrangement that was typical of academic painting. The gallery stretching into the distance and the arches in the background create an effective frame for the depiction of the crowd and the main figures in the centre. In line with the principles of academic art, Siemiradzki demonstrates his technical virtuosity and his erudition, evident in the almost archaeological attention to detail. It is highly probable that the symbolism of the sacrificed beauty (aside from the undeniable eroticism that immediately strikes the viewer) harbours a complicated medley of lofty meanings.