Atala au Tombeau, Girodet de Roussy (1801)
In The Burial of Atala, Girodet paints a scene from François- René de Chateaubriand’s tragic love story, Atala, or the Loves of Two Savages in the Desert. This novel exemplifies the melancholic, exotic description of nature and evocative language that became trademarks of Romantic fiction, and it was immensely popular when it was published in 1801. It tells the story of the Christian maiden Atala, who frees the Indian brave Chactas from his enemies and finds refuge with him in the cave of the religious hermit Father Aubry. Having consecrated herself to God and a life of chastity, Atala takes poison when she fears she is falling in love with Chactas. After her death, Chactas vows to become a Christian himself. Commissioned by the director of a newspaper that opposed the Empire, Girodet’s painting elevates a subject from contemporary literature to the status of a major religious work. The monumental arrangement of the figures, the grotto setting, and the cross isolated against the distant sky recall The Dead Christ Supported by the Virgin.