The Struggle with the Angel: Delacroix, Jacob, and the God of Good and Evil

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In The Struggle with the Angel, Jean-Paul Kauffmann — a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for his The Black Room at Longwood — wrestles with good and evil. His muse is The Struggle of Jacob with the Angel, a Delacroix painting in Paris's Saint-Sulpice. In this painting, Delacroix, a narrative artist of the mid 19th century, portrayed one of the most enigmatic episodes in Genesis. It was said to be his "spiritual testimony," and it took him eight years to complete. In the manner of an intuitive ...

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Overview

In The Struggle with the Angel, Jean-Paul Kauffmann — a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for his The Black Room at Longwood — wrestles with good and evil. His muse is The Struggle of Jacob with the Angel, a Delacroix painting in Paris's Saint-Sulpice. In this painting, Delacroix, a narrative artist of the mid 19th century, portrayed one of the most enigmatic episodes in Genesis. It was said to be his "spiritual testimony," and it took him eight years to complete. In the manner of an intuitive detective, Kauffmann investigates the painting and the church that houses it. Stroke by meticulous stroke, he uncovers the painting's deeper meaning — the struggle with God — for the artist and for himself, as he attempts to put his own troubled past into perspective. Color photos and illustrations accompany this meditation on humanity's struggles with God.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Kauffmann (Black Room at Longwood), a foreign correspondent who was imprisoned in Beirut from 1985 to 1988, here meditates on Delacroix's Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, a mural in the church of Saint-Sulpice, Paris. In his winding search for the place of humankind in the eternal battle of good and evil, Kauffmann consults a cast of characters associated with the church and the painting who offer their views on what the painting means to them. The symbolism gets a little heavyhanded and even repetitive, and some discussion of the artist is based on speculation. But the poignancy of this work comes to the fore when the reader realizes that this isn't art history at all but rather a memoir-of a church, of the biblical Jacob, and of the author, who tries to come to terms with his time as a prisoner in Beirut: "It was not a painter's secret that I was trying to discover, but the secret of another man who one day found himself in the kingdom of darkness." Here Kauffmann's insight is profound, and his connections from church to artist to humankind to his own life flourish. Recommended for libraries where there is an interest in memoir, France, and Delacroix.-Nadine Dalton Speidel, Cuyahoga Cty. P.L., Parma, OH Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
French historian Kauffmann (The Black Room at Longwood, 1999, etc.) sweeps readers up in his magnificent obsession for Eugène Delacroix’s mural Jacob Wrestling with the Angel. The author ingeniously weaves together the stories of Delacroix’s life (1798-1863), his family (his father had a 30-pound testicular tumor surgically removed without anesthetic; a teenaged brother fell in battle with the Russians), and the actual composition of the mural, commissioned in April 1849 and completed at the Parisian church of Saint-Sulpice in July 1861. Kauffmann befriends the sexton, who shows him rarely seen regions of Saint-Sulpice above and below (some 5,000 people are buried in the crypt). He discovers painters and sculptors who have studios in unknown nooks of the building; he observes the ravages of time and water; he finds rooms filled with litter from previous decades and centuries, including two broken but nonetheless stunning statues of angels whose facial features resemble those in Jacob. Meanwhile, he has an uneasy relationship with a lecturer from the Louvre, a woman whose acerbity and coolness both annoy and attract him. In his fierce endeavor to understand the appeal of the mural, Kauffmann reads and rereads the account in Genesis of Jacob’s struggle, all that Delacroix wrote, all that others have written about the artist and his mural. He visits Delacroix’s homes and haunts, walks the battlefield where the younger brother fell, engages in conversation a potpourri of people from cops to tightrope walkers to tourists to filmmakers to organists to occupants of homes in which the painter once lived. He visits the church so regularly that he gradually becomes one of the odder bees inhabitingthe hive. The long-sought epiphany finally arrives in the damp, dark annex of a museum when Kauffmann views another painting, François-Joseph Heim’s The Arrival of Jacob in Mesopotamia. It is a simple moment, but profoundly affecting. A masterpiece of investigation, explication, introspection, and narrative, brilliantly illuminating an artist’s mind and a scholar’s heart. (Illustrations, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568582436
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.97 (d)

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