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HOME : Decorative Arts : Archive : Agamemnon Watches as Achilles Presents the Prize of Wisdom to Nestor during the Funeral Games
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Agamemnon Watches as Achilles Presents the Prize of Wisdom to Nestor during the Funeral Games - X.0512
Origin: Europe
Circa: 1810 AD
Dimensions: 52.50" (133.4cm) high x 66" (167.6cm) wide
Collection: Michel Martin Drolling
Medium: Oil on Canvas

Additional Information: SOLD. Art Logic--Mount Street Galleries, 2004

Location: Great Britain
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Michel Martin Drolling (1786-1851) was a French academic painter who specialized in Neo- classical subjects in the manner of Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), the leading exponent of the Neo-Classical movement. To that end, he has placed his figures in the foreground in imitation of a theatre stage in front of a distant backdrop which recalls a scene set. The gestures of his figures and their body language are also taken directly from theatre and imitate a director’s blocking. The theatre analogy is further enhanced by the lack of a middle ground. These references to the contemporary theatre are no accident because critics at the time demanded that art follow the lead of theatre with regard to composition and design. Here Drolling demonstrates his strict adherence to such ideas. In keeping with Neo-classical design tenets, Drolling’s palette is restricted to a few bold colours, namely red, green, and a golden yellow which he restricts to a few, selected garments but which nevertheless create a very colourful impression.

Drolling takes as his point of departure two episodes in Homer’s famed epic, the Iliad. The first occurs in Book 11, lines 654ff, where Nestor, king of sandy Pylos on the southwestern coast of Greece and a man renowned for his wisdom, explains why the refusal of Achilles to fight is so detrimental to the Greeks. The second is based on the Funeral Games of Patroklos, which occupy the whole of Book 23, in which various Greeks are given prizes for winning respective athletic competitions. By carefully reworking these episodes into his composition, Drolling creates a narrative which is not actually found in the Homeric poem.

In order to concentrate on the prize given to Nestor for his wisdom, Drolling places the left hand side of the painting in shadow and turns the body and head of the most prominent nude in that vignette toward the right. That permits the introduction of Achilles, depicted as a heroic nude, his muscular body showcased against his red robe and horse-hair plumed helmet. Achilles makes a dramatic entrance. He holds out a classical vessel with his extended left hand to the aged Nestor, supported by his young man servant, while his right hand is offered in greeting. Nestor’s intense gaze is fixed on Achilles while the space between their heads is filled by the frontal image of an old man, with long white hair and a long white beard. The model for this head was doubtless an ancient Greek sculpture of either Zeus or Serapis, known to Drolling as well as to his audience. Such “quotations” of well-known ancient sculptures by Neo-Classical painters sat well with contemporary art patrons and demonstrated that they, as artists, were equal of the great masters of antiquity.

Slumped over at the right hand corner of the painting is Agamemnon, the nominal leader of the Greeks against Troy. He is obviously displeased as the gesture of his right arm and sulking expression reveal. This depiction is doubtless intended to be ironic because in the Iliad Agamemnon is awarded a prize during the Funeral Games of Patroklos for absolutely nothing. He is rewarded simply because he is the nominal leader of the Greeks. His sullen expression here suggests that he, as that leader, should be recognized for his wisdom, such as it was.The quotations from famous Classical works of art were not limited to the hoary head appearing between Achilles and Nestor. The face of Nestor itself is modeled on busts of Homer known in several Roman copies. The sullen figure of Agamemnon is based on Classical prototypes of seated gods such as Zeus or Poseidon, and even the figure to the far left whose back is to the audience and who serves to introduce the scene is a quotation from any number of Classical statues of male nudes designed with this S-curved configuration of their body,

Drolling was a recognized academician during his own life-time and contributed to popularizing ancient Greek subjects in the period leading up to the European Liberation of Greece from the Ottomans, of which Lord Byron is such an eloquent exponent. This painting is possession of all of the elements deemed important for inclusion within a Neo- Classical work of art. The scene is redolent with quotations from ancient works of art which, doubtless, served as a lively conversation piece as guests would stand in front of the painting, attempting to identify each such quotation to the sheer delight of its owner. - (X.0512)


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