This painting shows the awful human cost of the Siege of Paris, when the French capital was encircled by Prussian troops after Napoleon III’s surrender on 2nd September, 1870. Some artists fled, but Doré, as did James Tissot, joined the National Guard to defend the capital. Here, painting that winter, he seems to be recording a scene that he had actually witnessed. He depicts a nun carrying a child to safety along a snowy, blood-stained street, by a wall which might belong to the religious house where she hopes to take the child. A part of the city burns behind her, and someone sprawls wounded on the pavement further back. Ahead of her, a jagged piece of shrapnel lies on the snow, and at the side appears to be a large bloodstain. Curator Caroline Corbeau-Parsons writes, “Whether painter or illustrator, Doré remained above all a wonderful storyteller whose compositions were genuine theatrical scenes”.
Amidst the swarm of blacken’d heathen
Two sacred spirits tender weaken
As floating embers coax the stars
From seething flames that reminisce
The wounds of time that once hath pass’d
Wavering under trampled cloaks
Glints a ruin of dreams and hopes
That swell in ashen blood and ice
Where pools of death reflect its glimmer
And deepen shrouds of nightly shimmer.
‘Cerement’ Automated Poetry Performance #1:
By Haris Ashraf