Frederic Lord Leighton (British, 1830-1896)
Study for The Syracusan Bride Leading Wild Beasts in Procession to the Temple of Diana, ca. 1865
Oil on canvas, 5 1/4 x 16 1/2 in.
Leighton, who served as president of the Royal Academy of Arts from 1878 until his death, was the most influential proponent of classicism in late 19th-century England. Among the grandest of his works are four processional pictures: monumental, frieze-like compositions that revolve around a single central figure. Three of these paintings—two of which are represented here by small oil studies—take their subjects from ancient Greek sources. The Syracusan Bride(1865, private collection) is derived from the second Idyll of Theocritus, while Homer’s Iliadinspired Captive Andromache (ca. 1886-88, Manchester Art Gallery). Yet Leighton did not adhere to the main narratives, preferring to select his themes from peripheral incidents. The Syracusan Bride represents a briefly mentioned procession of wild animals and young women to the grove of Diana, while Captive Andromachedepicts Hector’s premonition of his wife’s fate should he be killed in battle: drawing water among the common people. The luxuriant brushwork of these exquisite, semi-abstract oil sketches is a far cry from the careful finish of the final paintings, yet these sketches were a crucial step in Leighton’s working procedure, created after a painting’s entire composition had been worked out in many detailed scale drawings.