"Whosoever had not known that this young maiden had once enjoyed the light of day would have taken her for a statue of virginity asleep," wrote François René Chateaubriand of Atala in his popular Romantic novel of 1801. Taking inspiration from such poetic lines, the artist, painting in a style similar to Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy Trioson, let the rays of the moon play upon Atala and cast over the whole a dreamlike, mystical, magic light, establishing a decidedly Romantic mood. In this scene, Atala's beloved American Indian lover--looking like a Neoclassical version of a Roman hero--and a missionary lay her to rest after she has committed suicide rather than break the vow of virginity she made to her dying mother.
Burial of Atalafirst showed at the Paris Salon of 1808 and then exhibited it again in 1814, receiving acclaim both times. Other artists painted numerous copies--such as this one--shortly after its first exhibition, and it has since become a landmark in art-historical studies, exemplifying the transition from Neoclassicism to Romanticism in the early 1800s.