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The inspiration here is the Greek myth of Clytemnestra from Homer's Odyssey (about 725-675 BC), and Aeschylus' Oresteia (about 458 BC). Clytemnestra is the wife of Agamemnon, commander of the Greek forces which besieged Troy after the abduction of Helen (Clytemnestra's sister).

John Collier was a British painter and writer. He painted in the Pre-Raphaelite style and was one of the most prominent portrait painters of his generation. This dramatic image reflects Collier's keen interest in the theatre. He shows us Clytemnestra moments after the murder, bringing the same attention to detail to her blood-spattered garments and wild eyes as to the archaeological details of the doorway and column. It is thought that a young man modelled for the figure of Clytemnestra, possibly the actor who played the role in a production of the Oresteia at St John's College Oxford, which Collier saw.

In Aeschylus version of the story, she murders her husband and the Trojan prophetess Cassandra (whom Agamemnon had abducted) in revenge for sacrificing their daughter to the gods in exchange for a favourable wind to sail to Troy. However, in Homer's earlier version, her role in Agamemnon's death is unclear and her character is significantly more subdued. During Agamemnon's long absence at the Trojan Wars, Clytemnestra begins a love affair with Aegisthus, her husband's cousin. Whether Clytemnestra was seduced into the affair or entered into it independently differs according to the author of the myth. Nevertheless, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus plot Agamemnon's violent death.

No. 577

Presented by Mrs Mary Harrison, 1893

Oil on canvas
2585.0 x 1654.0 x 90.0 mm
Image and text © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London, 2022

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