Northern mannerist artist, ca. 1560

The discovery of Achilles amongst the daugthers of Lycomedes

Few works from classical antiquity have had bigger influence on western art and culture than Homer’s Iliad, that epic story of Gods and heroes fighting in the Trojan war. From the renaissance onwards, when the ancients were rediscovered, it was a major source of inspiration for many artists, in Italy as well as in northern Europe. Adaptations of the story, such as can be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, supplied additional iconographic material.

The present work depicts a scene from the Iliad that was also commented on by Ovid: the discovery of Achilles amongst the daughters of Lycomedes. When war between the Greeks and the Trojans was imminent, Thetis, Achilles’ mother, hid her son – disguised as a girl – amongst the daughters of Lycomedes, king of Skyros. As is was foretold that Achilles would perish in the Trojan war, he did not protest. At the court, Achilles fell in love with one of Lycomede’s daughters and impregnated her. Ultimately, however, he was discovered by Odysseus, who was sent to look for him, using a clever ruse: he laid out gifts which would normally appeal to girls, but among them he placed several weapons as well. Achilles was instinctively drawn to them, and when Odysseus let his men sound the trumpet, he grabbed a weapon, wanting to charge the enemy straight away. Thus his secret was revealed, and Achilles was taken to Troy to fight.

Although it cannot be established with certainty who made this fine drawing, it can safely be dated to the second half of the sixteenth century (around 1560). The drawing is a contemporary copy after a painting by the Italian-born painter Francesco Primaticcio (Bologna 1504 – 1570), who was one of the leading artists of the so-called First School of Fontainebleau. It has been suggested, on stylistic grounds, that the author was a visiting northern mannerist artist, although it is also possible that the artist formed part of the school of Fontainebleau.

Artist: Northern mannerist artist, ca. 1560
Medium: sepia ink on laid paper
Dimensions: 155 x 235 mm