The Combat, Woman Pleading for the Vanquished



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I saw the original picture (see below) on which these photographs are based about two years ago in the National Gallery in Edinburgh, and thought that the composition had the potential to be converted into an interesting photograph. The painting is generally considered the most significant work by William Etty an early C19 Yorkshire artist who was accomplished but too inconsistent to be thought of as a great painter. This particular picture was painted sure after he returned from an extended visit to Venice and you can certainly see the Venetian influence in composition and colour.

Etty specialised in painting classical and mythological subjects, regularly including female nudes in his work, as here where the largely undraped figure of Mercy intercedes to protect the vanquished warrior. He was widely criticised for including nudes for immoral enjoyment whilst he referred to the classical, and certainly Venetian, tradition of the female nude representing innocence and lofty morals. Nothing changes.

As I thought about translating this picture into a contemporary photograph I considered various alternatives, eventually deciding to set it as fight in a club. This also gave me the opportunity to characterise a range of typical reactions from horror, to vicarious amusement – capturing the scene on her phone – to complete disinterest. I tried the picture in both a horizontal and vertical framing and am still undecided as to whether the tighter or looser composition works best.

With many thanks to my assistant, Rebecca Dennis ( , who made this all possible, and to all the participants; Abbigail Snape, Jack Leese, Robert Powell, Rosie Beechey, Rebekah Kilgariff, Liz Ruscoe, Kellie Lynch, Kate Nesta, Lea Brando and Craig Davis.

William Etty, Mercy interceding for the vanquished, 1825
William Etty, The Combat, Woman Pleading for the Vanquished, 1825