A Christian Dirce (1897) by the Polish painter Henryk Hector Siemiradzki (1843-1902). Siemiradzki depicted here how a christian martyr is killed in the circus in a kind of re-enactment of the myth of Dirce who was killed by being tied to the horns of a bull. It's a very spectacular scenery from the apex of history painting, a pale beautiful body, a fat decadent Nero, gladiators and exotic Nubian slaves. Much too nice to frighten.
History painting dates back to the Renaissance and was long considered to be the "grand genre". Nevertheless it has its peak in the 19th century forged by Neoclassicism and Romanticism. There it became the artistic contribution in the process of the construction of National Identities of the European and American nations.
At the same time history painting under the influence of historism pretended to be "realistic", to show history how it has been. Above all it was this pretension that led to the great failure of History painting AND Realism at the end of the century.
When artists and their public realized that telling history always will be subjective and a painting will always be an illusion Realism and history painting lost their ground to modern painting.