Achilles and Briseis

WAG 1995.286


This ink drawing is a copy after a drawing (no.128381) in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. This was previously considered to be by the celebrated Dutch artist Rembrandt (1606 - 1669), but is now attributed to one of his pupils and good friend Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1621 - 1674). The New York drawing is dated to around 1640 when van den Eeckhout was at the end of his apprenticeship with Rembrandt and his drawing style and choice of subject was still greatly influenced by his master. The copyist of the Liverpool drawing has misunderstood the background tent, in front of which the ancient Greek hero Achilles stands, and has turned it into a hovering cloud. Many of the other features of the Liverpool drawing are schematically drawn and the tall figure on the right has been repeatedly scribbled over with hatched lines as if crossed out. In the recent past the scene has been thought to show Thetis urging her son Achilles to re-join the battle against Troy, from which he had withdrawn grief-stricken after the death of his friend and lover Patroclus. The Pierpont Morgan Library now identifes the theme as being that of Achilles and his captured Trojan slave-girl Briseis, whom the Greek army commander Agamemnon demanded for himself. The scene traditionally takes place in front of Achilles' tent and the confrontation involves Achilles drawing his sword in front of Agamemnon. The New York drawing was in the English collection of the 4th Earl of Warwick (1818-1893), the majority of whose drawings came from the collection of his uncle Sir Charles Greville (1763-1832) a younger relation of Charles Francis Greville (1749-1810), a contemporary and political friend of William Roscoe, who owned this copy (WAG 1995.286) by 1814. The copyist could therefore have been British, but is more likely to have been a 17th or 18th-century Dutch artist as there was another copy of the original drawing (no.13731) in Berlin in 1930.