More about The Anger of Achilles

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Revolution might appear sexy from a distance, but revolutionaries have to see the ugliness and volatility of it, and those are the qualities that appear in Jacques-Louis David's The Anger of Achilles.

Having served the monarchist regime, the revolution, and finally Napoleon, the latest government had given David the boot by the time he produced this work, and he took his exile as an opportunity to do his last paintings. Often focusing on ancient Greek stories, David loved to tell people how happy he was with these late works, which constituted his "farewell to painting." David was not a humble man—he never tired, in this period of life, of telling people how he had changed the face of European painting forever. He was right, but critics and the public wanted to "discover" a humble artist, not maintain the reputation of a boastful one.

In this work, David uses his formidable imagination to invent an unlikely episode from the ancient Greek tale of Achilles. Betrothed to Iphigenia, Achilles is all ready for the excitement of the wedding night—he's got his slow jams cued up on his iPod and everything—so he's more than a little bit bummed out to learn that his would-be father-in-law, Agamemnon, is going to put the kibosh on the wedding. Maybe it would be okay with Achilles if the cancellation was the choice of his bride-to-be but, in keeping with Agamemnon's religion as it was interpreted by the seer Calchas, the plan is to instead sacrifice Iphigenia to a deity in order to successfully send troops to Troy. 

In David's painting, Achilles is so miffed that he is about to pull his sword, but Agamemnon pulls a Jedi mind trick on him and Achilles is unable to strike. This moment was influenced by the German mostly-quack doctor Mesmer, from whom we inherit the term "mesmerize," who was an acquaintance of David. In reality, and in the texts of Euripides and Racine, Achilles is not necessarily upset enough to do anything like this: going against a seer would be heresy.

In some versions of the story they do sacrifice Iphigenia, and in other versions, they don't. In at least one version where she doesn't make it, she is unaware of the ruling of Calchas, thinking that the sacrificial altar is the wedding altar, which is pretty harsh!

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Here is what Wikipedia says about The Anger of Achilles

The Anger of Achilles is a painting of 1819 by Jacques-Louis David in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

One of the last of David's history paintings, it shows the moment in Greek myth when Agamemnon reveals to Achilles that he has not actually brought his daughter Iphigenia to him as a bride, but rather intends to sacrifice her in order to appease the goddess Artemis. Achilles begins to draw his sword in anger upon hearing this, while Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, looks on in grief and sadness with her hand on her daughter's shoulder.

David produced the work during his exile in Brussels. An 1825 copy of the painting is sometimes attributed to Michel Ghislain Stapleaux under David's direction. This copy is now in a private collection; according to ICIJ, it is owned through a British Virgin Islands-registered company by Russian media manager Konstantin Ernst.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about The Anger of Achilles

Comments (2)

Madison Gustafson

I think this piece tells a very passionate story. It represents Neoclassical art very well in how it illustrates and draws from greek mythology for it's subjects and story line. Your eyes draw to Iphigenia as the subject. She is the reason for all the emotion you draw from the painting. The sadness of her mother, the seriousness of her father, and the anger of Achilles.

Meggo

I find this piece visually stunning. It is a great representation of Neoclassical art. The painting captures all of the character's emotions. Iphigenia is at the center of the piece, representing how, in the middle of chaos, there is always someone who is hurting. This is a perfect example of Neoclassism. David took a myth and applied it to his current situation. He was probably upset about differing viewpoints in the world, and how innocents got wrapped up in the battles that ensued.