This lovely painting is the essence of 19th century Romanticism. Two giant stone statues rise up from the Egyptian desert, perhaps looking to gods that have ceased to exist, marking the glory of a civilization long in ruins. The waters of the Nile, the sustenance of that ancient civilization, lap gently at the feet of the stone giants. The Colossi of Memnon is the painting’s title and also its subject. It’s by Austrian painter Hubert Sattler, painted in 1846, and typical of his style and also the trends in art of that time period.
The Colossi of Memnon do exist. They’re located in the Necropolis of Thebes, not far from the modern city of Luxor, and they’ve been standing on this spot for 3400 years, since Egypt’s 18th (XVIII) Dynasty. They are depictions of the ruler Amenhotep III, also known as Amenophis III. One of the statues is said to “sing” a melancholy note at sunset, perhaps an effect of wind or something of that nature–but we’ll never know, because the phenomenon has not been recorded reliably since Roman times. Subjects like these, especially ruins of ancient civilizations, were a favorite subject for 19th century romanticist painters. Not only were they visually beautiful and seemed exotic to European audiences, but they reminded people of the fleeting nature of life and the unstoppable march of time.
Hubert Sattler, born in Salzburg in 1817, traveled to many places in Europe, the Americas and the Near East to find subjects for his paintings. The Colossi of Memnon was undoubtedly painted from the real place. There is one report of the natives of Damascus, Syria throwing stones at Sattler for some transgression. Though obviously quite talented, he was one of those workaday European painters who did well enough but never became legendary, despite the great beauty and detail of his paintings. He died in 1904.
The original of this painting is in the Salzburg Museum in Austria.