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The Spooky Tale of the Ghost of Banquo

Witches, a cauldron, a ghost, a bloody dagger, thunder and lightning, a dark castle – the kind of stuff that brings to mind Halloween. But also the kind of stuff in Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, about which artist Theodore Chasseriau created the painting The Ghost of Banquo.

In The Ghost of Banquo, Chasseriau portrays the banquet in Act 3 Scene 4 at which Macbeth imagines he sees the ghost of Banquo, the army general whose murder Macbeth hired. Chasseriau sets the scene appropriately in a dark room lit only by torchlight. The guests appear to have eaten and are enjoying their drink as they talk among themselves. The Ghost of Banquo is immediately recognizable as the white figure in the center. None of the guests seem to be directing their gaze at the ghost except for Macbeth, who sits to the right of the ghost with a goblet in his hand -- not surprising since only Macbeth can see the ghost! Lady Macbeth is actually looking at her husband and, based on the play, is probably thinking hard of some explanation to give the guests for her husband’s strange behavior.

The play Macbeth is named for a Scottish general named Macbeth in King Duncan's army in the eleventh century. In response to the prophecy of three witches that Macbeth would soon become king, he is urged by his wife to help along his destiny by killing the king himself. Macbeth initially resists the idea but eventually gives in, starting a chain of events that leads to more murders and ultimately his own death as he struggles with his own guilt and desire for power.

Theodore Chasseriau was a French Romantic artist of the nineteenth century. Considered to be a child prodigy, Chasseriau became the pupil of well-known artist Ingres at the age of twelve. Before age seventeen, he had won third place at the Paris Salon with a selection of female nudes. Chasseriau’s interest in the work of artist Eugene Delacroix, a popular Romantic artist of the time, had a significant impact on his work. The Ghost of Banquo with its emphasis on the past and on melodramatic tragedy is a good example of Romanticism, as are the rich colors, dark setting, and somewhat dramatic poses of the figures. The majority of art that Chasseriau produced during his short career was of large murals in public buildings but he did produce a significant number of fine oil paintings as well. Although Chasseriau was exceedingly talented, it is speculated that his obscurity in art history was due to his lack of individuality and his inability to overcome the influence of his contemporaries.

Click here to read a more detailed summary of Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
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