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Oil painting - Orestes hanging up the shield of Agamemnon
  • Orestes hanging up the shield of Agamemnon
    Stothard, Thomas RA, born 1755 - died 1834
  • Enlarge image

Orestes hanging up the shield of Agamemnon

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    late 18th century-pre 1834 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Stothard, Thomas RA, born 1755 - died 1834 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Alexander Dyce

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

Painting of Orestes hanging up the shield of Agamemnon, and three other figures in classical dress walking away.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (probably, painted)


late 18th century-pre 1834 (painted)


Stothard, Thomas RA, born 1755 - died 1834 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas


Height: 45 in estimate, Width: 57.5 in estimate, :

Object history note

Bequeathed by Rev. Alexander Dyce, 1869
Reference to Dyce : Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education, South Kensington Museum.A Catalogue of the Paintings, Miniatures, Drawings... Bequeathed by The Reverend Alexander Dyce. London, 1874. A 'Note' on p.v. comments, 'This catalogue refers to the Art portion of the Collection bequeathed to the South Kensington Museum by the Reverend Alexander Dyce, the well-known Shakespearian scholar, who died May 15, 1869'. The Catalogue. Paintings, Miniatures, &c. by Samuel Redgrave notes of the 'Oil Paintings', 'The strength of Mr. Dyce's valuable bequest to Department of Science and Art does not lie in [this] portion ... which is in its nature of a very miscellaneous character. The collection was made apparently as objects offered themselves, and without any special design.'

Dyce owned 3 oils by Stothard (Dyce. 27, 28, 29), which reflected his interest in Shakespeare and other literary subjects. A further oil painting (Dyce.49) has now been attributed to Stothard, while a sketch on paper in oil (Dyce.884) was originally catalogued as a 'drawing', along with other sketches and designs by Stothard (Dyce. 825 to 910).

Historical significance: Thomas Stothard (1755-1834) was a highly prolific painter, book illustrator and designer. After his father's death in 1770 he began his working life apprenticed to a Huguenot silk weaver. At the completion of his apprenticeship in 1777 he entered the Royal Academy Schools, and there struck up life-long friendships with the sculptor John Flaxman and with William Blake. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1778 until his death in 1834, and from 1778 also began to produce illustrations for various publishers and magazines such as the Ladies' Magazine. He sometimes exhibited the original designs for such illustrations at the Royal Academy exhibitions. In his day he was highly respected as a history painter in oil, but the V&A collections of drawings and watercolours reflect his reputation during the 19th century predominantly as an illustrator, as well as a designer of a multitude of objects such as silver salvers to funerary monuments. As the Dictionary of National Biography notes, Stothard took 'advantage of the opportunities afforded by publishing and the industrial arts, while maintaining a reputation in the more respectable reaches of high art'. For example Stothard exhibited works on a grander scale than was his norm for Bowyer's 'Historic Gallery' (1790-1806). But many of the oils now in the V&A are on a modest scale and are perhaps designs for printed illustrations, rather than 'finished' history paintings. Stothard played a respected part in the art world of his day, and from 1812 until his death at the age of seventy-nine he held the post of librarian of the Royal Academy.

This small oil painting was catalogued as by "Painter Unknown" when acquired in 1869, and later as "By or after Stothard". The subject is described as 'Orestes hanging up the shield of Agamemnon'. Agamemnon's shield is described in the Iliad, traditionally attributed to Homer. The poem describes the tenth and final year of the Trojan War, the siege of the city of Troy by the Greeks. The plot concerns Achilles, the Greek warrior, whose anger toward the king of Mycenae, Agamemnon, proves disastrous for the Greeks. Agamemnon's shield is described in Book XI of the Iliad; the shield is circular, inscribed with allegorical designs, and "... in the midst of all was the blank-eyed face of Gorgon with her stare of horror, and Fear was inscribed upon it, and Terror. " A gorgon was a female monster whose power was such that a person looking upon her would be turned to stone; Medusa was the most notorious gorgon, who additionally had hair of venomous snakes. It is not actually possible to discern the gorgon's face in this small oil.

Orestes was the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. According to Homer, Orestes was away when his father returned from Troy to meet his death at the hands of Aegisthus, his wife's lover. On reaching manhood, Orestes avenged his father by killing Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. Aeschylus's dramatic trilogy the Oresteia recounts the murder and the pursuit of Orestes by the Furies for the crime of matricide. In Euripides' Iphigeneia in Tauris, Orestes is reunited with his sister Iphigeneia and regains his father's kingdom.

The scene depicted by Stothard could well be of Orestes, shown with his father's most famous attribute, his shield. That the subject is Greek is emphasised not only by the costume and hair-style of the figures, but also by the frieze like design of the composition, and by the pose of Orestes, which echoes the famous so called "Borghese Gladiator", one of the most admired works of antiquity in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'Orestes Hanging Up the Shield of Agamemnon', Thomas Stothard


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting


Paintings; Myths & Legends


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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