The Death of Emperor Commodus
This work is an exemplary illustration of a single subject depicted in a variety of formats, a custom inherited from the academic tradition.
A very complete sketch or replica aimed at the private market, The Death of Emperor Commodus is a faithful copy of the large painting exhibited at the Salon in 1879. The evocation of the tragic but trivial end of the Emperor, a despot assassinated on the orders of his mistress Marcia, can be interpreted in the context of the consolidation of the Republican regime, and as a denunciation of the impasses of the Roman autocracy. This terrible yet edifying subject was rewarded at the Salon with a 2nd class medal and was purchased by the State (for Béziers Museum).
When painting a small format replica, Pelez was keen to introduce a number of minute variations. In another version in a very similar format (H. 61 x W. 40 cm), which went on sale to the public in Drouot in 1992, Marcia’s henchman is black.
The Death of Emperor Commodus combined a Pompeian décor in the neo-Greek style and a fight scene treated in a more realistic way. Pelez’s contemporaries did not fail to point out this irruption of realism in the treatment of the figures, and found it amusing that the model for the strangler in charge of executing Commodus was a former fairground wrestler who was well-known in the studios of Montmartre.