ROILOS George (1867-1928) “The Battle of Pharsalus”, before 1901

The Battle of Pharsalus (before 1901)

`The Battle of Pharsalus` together with two other paintings by Roilos, `Gentzelia` and `Deleria,` form a trilogy with which the artist portrayed the (unfortunate for the Greeks) war of 1897, according to the new approach to depicting historical scenes that prevailed since the 19th century. By this time, the inspiration of the classical ideals of Greco-Roman-era painting had ceased to attract the attention of the public. With its newly awakened national consciousness and desire for a foothold in its own history, the public became more satisfied with contemporary military events and the harsh, immediate horror of the very real conflicts on the battlefields. Artists now demythified the warriors, whom they treated as common folk and not as fighting heroes, turning their attention to the ordinary soldier who shouldered the burden of the battle and suffered the hardships of war. These historical compositions, which recorded with accuracy the passions of simple folk, were rendered by artists who were themselves caught in the maelstrom of the war. Sometimes as observers, other times as fighters, they recorded the events as eyewitnesses. The result was a kind of painted news documentary of actual events, role now occupied by photography, reportage, and television. Participating as an ordinary soldier in this war, Roilos was not content with the countless sketches that he brought back from the battlefields. In order to render the accurately recognizable characteristics of the Crown Prince and his staff officers, he had them stop by his studio to pose for him. He even spent months inside the military stables, drawing and capturing the movements of the horses. In `The Battle of Pharsalus`, the panoramic view of the battlefield, the large numbers of figures gathered in groups, the narrative character, the emphasis on movement with which the painter attempts to capture the action and the heat of the conflict are elements that express the dynamics as well as the truth of the situation. Organized in parallel bands, the picture brings the casualties into the foreground, the battle rages in the background, while the Crown Prince and his staff move in between. Half the painting is given over to the rendering of the sky, with its contrasting blues and ochres, while the energetic nature of the bright green of the plain and in the vegetation, set in motion by the heat of the battle, add a physicality and intensity to the work.