After his father's death in 1784, Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trioson joined the studio of Neoclassical titan Jacques-Louis David yet became a pioneer of French Romanticism. He won the Prix de Rome in 1789. Girodet's Endymion Sleeping, painted in Rome and submitted to the Salon of 1793, showed the influence of Italian artists Antonio Canova and Correggio. Because Girodet's paintings were coldly sensuous and atmospheric, rather than spartan and heroic like David's, David disapproved. Girodet soon returned to Paris, where he earned his living by drawing illustrations and painting portraits. Although he scandalized the 1799 Salon with satirical sexual references in his portrait of a courtesan with her protector, Napoleon I nonetheless honored him with commissions. In 1810 Girodet won an important competition, beating out David's famous masterpiece The Intervention of the Sabine Women.
A contemporary critic viewing Burial of Atalaof 1808 described Girodet's style as having a "precision of drawing reminiscent of the masterpieces of antiquity, a fresh coloring, a studied effect, and a brush stroke at once generous, fluent, and delicate." The picture won the Légion d'Honneur. In 1812 Girodet inherited a fortune, painted less, and dedicated himself increasingly to writing tedious poems on aesthetics in a house shuttered to daylight.