The scene in this engraving is from the 18th century French picaresque novel
- a satirical genre that follows a rogue hero who lives by his wits in a corrupt society - Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane.
Born into poverty in Santillana, Spain, Gil Blas is educated by his uncle before he leaves for Oviedo to attend the University
of Salamanca. His future is rudely interrupted when he is forced to help a group of robbers and subsequently is faced with
jail time. He becomes a valet and over the course of the next few years, meets many corrupt people and adapts to all sorts
of situations thanks to his quick wit. Gil Blas finds himself a favorite of the king and secretary to the prime minister and
ends up enjoying the rest of his life in a castle in good fortune.
to read a more in-depth summary of the book.
It seems that in this engraving, the actors are either about to begin or have just
finished their play, as one man - presumably the poet - bows in front of the court. It is most likely that the play has
just ended, as the audience seems relaxed - particularly the gentleman closest to the viewer - and the play's props (a mask,
gloves, a hat, a flower, crumpled paper, and a dressed-up monkey on a stool eating an apple) are strewn about in the foreground.
A young boy behind the poet pulls the door open, and props his hand on his hand with a rather bored expression. Several members of the audience are smiling and whispering to one another, but the man with
his legs stretched out looks to be utterly unimpressed by the performance.
The Painter: Daniel Maclise
Daniel Maclise was born as Daniel McClish in Ireland in 1806. He studied at the Cork
School of Art before setting up his own portrait studio. In 1827, he came to London and entered the Royal Academy School.
He won a silver medal for the category of drawing from the antique and a gold medal for his history painting. In 1835, while
his career was flourishing, he began to go by the name Maclise. In 1843, Queen Victoria herself purchased his painting Scene
from Undine, which she presented to Prince Albert as a birthday present. In return, Prince Albert commissioned Maclise
to paint one of the frescoes in the Garden Pavilion at Buckingham Palace, before commissioning two more frescoes for the New
Palace at Westminster. From 1859 to 1865, Maclise worked on two enormous frescoes for the Royal Gallery in the new Parliament
buildings - a project that undermined his health considerably. He died of acute pneumonia in 1870. During his lifetime, Maclise
exhibited over 84 works at the Royal Academy, and was elected a full member.