The Sacrifice of Polyxena

Object Details


The Sacrifice of Polyxena


Giovanni Battista Pittoni (Italian (Venetian), 1687 - 1767)




about 1733 - 1734


Oil on canvas


128.3 x 95.3 cm (50 1/2 x 37 1/2 in.)

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According to Greek legend, Achilles fell in love with the Trojan princess Polyxena, the daughter of the king of Troy. He was offered her hand in marriage if he agreed to end the war between the Greeks and the Trojans. At Polyxena's request, Achilles came to make a sacrifice to Apollo, but he was ambushed by Paris, Polyxena's brother, as he knelt at the altar. Paris shot a fatal arrow into Achilles' heel, his one vulnerable spot. Before he died, Achilles vengefully proclaimed that the treacherous Polyxena be sacrificed at his tomb.

Here Giovanni Battista Pittoni depicted the ghost of Achilles demanding that his bride be killed. Polyxena, wearing a white wedding gown, extends her arm toward the priest brandishing a knife and with great dignity steps forward toward the tomb. Around her, a throng of Greeks and Trojans watch with mixed emotions. Although a violent subject, Pittoni's elegant, richly garbed figures and elaborate antique architecture make an appealing picture of mythological martyrdom.

about 1733/1734 - 1747

Count Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg, 1661 - 1747 (Berlin, Germany; Venice, Italy), commissioned from the artist, about 1733/1734; by inheritance to his nephew, Adolph Friedrich von der Schulenberg, 1747.

1747 -

Adolph Friedrich von der Schulenberg

- 1952

Prince Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt (Thuringia, Austria)


Antonio Morassi, 1893 - 1976 (Venice, Italy), sold to Knoedler & Company and Pinakos, March 29, 1952.

1952 - 1958

Knoedler & Company, 1846 - 2011 (New York, New York)

and Pinakos Inc., (New York, New York), sold to Walter P. Chrysler, August 1958.

1958 - about 1972

Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. (New York, New York), sold to Eugene Thaw, about 1972.

about 1972 - 1972

Eugene Thaw (New York, New York), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1972.

Venetian Paintings of the Eighteenth Century (October 31, 1961 to December 6, 1961)
  • Finch College Museum of Art, October 31 to December 6, 1961
Italian Renaissance and Baroque Paintings from the Collection of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. (December 2, 1967 to May 15, 1968) (60)
  • Norfolk Museum Of Arts And Sciences, (Norfolk), December 2, 1967 to May 15, 1968
Baroque Masters from the J. Paul Getty Museum (February 26 to March 30, 1973) (32)
  • California State University, (Northridge), February 26 to March 30, 1973
The Glory of Venice (September 15, 1994 to July 30, 1995) (32)
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London), September 15 to December 14, 1994
  • National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), January 29 to April 23, 1995
  • Museo del Settecento Veneziano di Ca' Rezzonico, (Venice), May 25 to July 30, 1995

Robinson, Frederick B. "The Healing of Antiochus." Springfield Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin, vol. 26, no. 1. (October/November 1959) n.p.

Binion, Alice. "From Schulenburg Gallery and Records." Burlington Magazine, vol. 112. (May 1970) p. 301.

Maxon, John, and Joseph Rishel, eds., Paintings in Italy in the Eighteenth Century, Rococo and Romanticism, exh. cat. (Minneapolis Institute of Arts: 1970) p. 94, under no. 36.

Baroque Masters from the J. Paul Getty Museum, exh. cat. (Northridge: California State University, 1973) pp. 24-25, no. 32, ill.

Fredericksen, Burton B., ed. The J. Paul Getty Museum: Greek and Roman Antiquities, Western European Paintings, French Decorative Arts of the Eighteenth Century (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1975) pp. 100-1, ill.

Fredericksen, Burton B., et al. Guidebook: The J. Paul Getty Museum. 3rd ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1976) p. 69.

Fredericksen, Burton B., Jírí Frel, and Gillian Wilson. Guidebook: The J. Paul Getty Museum. 4th ed. Sandra Morgan, ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1978) p. 87.

Boccazzi, Franca Zava. Pittoni, L'Opera Completa. (Milan: 1979) pp. 139-40, no. 101; 160, under no. 185.

Fredericksen, Burton B., et al. The J. Paul Getty Museum Guidebook. 5th ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1980) p. 82.

Binion, Alice. "Anton Kern in Venice." Müncher Jahrbuch der Bildenden Kunst, 3rd series, vol. 32. (1981) pp. 184, 205, note 54.

Kalinowsky, K. "The theme 'Sacrifice of Polixen' in G.B. Pittoni's works." In Ars Auro Prior: Studia Joanni Bialostoki sexagenarío dicata. Warsaw, 1981: 537-42.

Binion, Alice. I Disegni di Giambattista Pittoni. (Florence: 1983) pp. 24-26 and 42, fig. 288.

Binion, Alice. La Galleria scomparsa del maresciallo von der Schulenburg, un mecenate nella Venezia del Settecento. Milan: Electa, 1990. p. 88; fig. 25.

Haskell, Francis. Mécènes et peintres: L'Art et la société au temps du baroque italien, trans. Fabienne Durand-Bogaert, Andrée Lyotard-May, Louis Evrard. (Paris: 1991) pp. 571-72, ill. 124.

Posner, Donald. "Pietro da Cortona, Pittoni, and the Plight of Polyxena." Art Bulletin, vol. 73, no. 3. (September 1991) pp. 399-414, fig. 14.

Binion, Alice. "Giambattista Pittoni." The Grove Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. Vol. 25. New York: Grove, 1996. p. 3, fig. 2.

Jaffé, David. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997) p. 97, ill.

Torrini, Annalisa Perissa. Disegni di Giovan Battista Pittoni. Venice: Gallerie dell'Accademia, 1998. p. 53, under no. 27; p. 149, figs. 39, 39a.

Nooter, Sarah. "Tragedy, Sacrifice, and the Averted Gaze in 'The Sacrifice of Polyxena.'" In The Tragic Muse: Art and Emotion, 1700-1900, exh. cat. Anne Leonard et al. (Chicago: Smart Museum of Art, 2011) pp. 51-52, fig. 28.