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Clytemnestra Receiving the News of Iphigenia's Impending Sacrifice

Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion

Clytemnestra Receiving the News of Iphigenia's Impending Sacrifice

Artist: François-Pascal-Simon Gérard (French, 1770–1837)
Culture: French
Date: 1787
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
30 1/2 x 38 1/4 inches (77.5 x 97.2 cm)
Classification: Painting
Credit Line: Museum purchase
Label Text:French neoclassical paintings of the late 1700s often represent historical and mythological scenes in which patriotic values rise above family bonds. This painting depicts a story from the Trojan War and shows the consequences of the Mycenaean king Agamemnon offending the goddess Artemis, who retaliated by stopping the winds in the Athenian harbor and stranding the Greek navy on its way to fight Troy. To appease the goddess and allow the navy to sail, Agamemnon was ordered to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. In a ploy to lure the unsuspecting girl to the island of Aulis, Agamemnon sent a message that she was to marry the warrior Achilles. Depicted here is the moment when Iphigenia and her mother, Clytemnestra, realize the horrible truth. Agamemnon, dressed in armor, stands at the door on the right. Achilles, in the center with his spear raised, leads a band of men to seize Iphigenia, who clings to her mother with a terrified sister. A statue of the offended goddess Artemis, holding a dagger suggesting the impending sacrifice, has been knocked to the ground. To the far left, the slave-priest Calchas prepares a fire on an altar.

François Gérard was only seventeen years old when he completed this painting, which is believed to be his earliest extant work. He studied under the famous neoclassicist Jacques-Louis David and became an accomplished history painter and portraitist, receiving many honors and becoming the official painter to King Louis XVIII.
Provenance: Private collection, southwest France, by around 1830. Purchased December 16, 2002 through (Blondeau & Associés, Paris) by Duke University Museum of Art, now Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
Object number: 2002.31.1