For nearly three weeks as I watched the exhilarating news coming from Cairo, I had in my head four great canvases by Delacroix that hang forbiddingly in the Grande Galerie at the Louvre: The Massacre at Scio, The Bark of Dante, The Death of Sardanapalus, Liberty Leading the People.Each of them is a passionate semblance of the threat of death or of death itself. I cannot imagine anyone who has seen these impressions ever having them completely out of his head. I know the images in the Dante very well because I happen to have in my house a Cezanne oil study of the Delacroix original.
Can history come to an end? Arthur Danto has written of art entering a “post-historical” phase; he believes that the history of modern art as moving toward a state of abstraction has been fulfilled—indeed, internally exhausted. Since the 1960s, this particular “narrative,” as he calls it, has come to an end, even as the art world continues to exist, even to flourish. Although I don't like the phrase “post-historical,” I think Danto is right. I had not, however, considered this idea in relation to history understood in its traditional sense as the actions of great men and nation building.