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The Sacrifice of Polyxena
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Giovanni Battista Pittoni
Italian, about 1733 - 1734
Oil on canvas
50 1/2 x 37 1/2 in.
72.PA.18

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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.