- Museum number
Two preliminary studies for Flaxman's illustrations to Homer's "Iliad"; Briseis taken from Achilles ("Iliad", I, 345), Patroclus handing Briseis to the charge of Erybates, who leads her away to the right, Achilles standing with head averted l; below, Thetis calling Briareus (Plate 2, "Iliad", I, 401), Thetis left invokes Briareus, whose head and hands alone appear, while Zeus sits above and the other gods fly. c. 1792-1793
Pen and grey ink, over graphite
- Production date
- 1792-1793 (circa)
Height: 252 millimetres
Width: 192 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- In 1793 Flaxman engaged the Italian engraver Thomas Piroli (who later worked for William Young Ottley) to engrave a series of drawings by him illustrating Homer's epics 'The Iliad' and 'The Odyssey', which had been commissioned by Mrs Georgiana Hare-Naylor the previous year. The engravings are in the department (reg.no 1973,U.1189[1-40]). Flaxman's Homer illustrations were published in Italy in two volumes in 1793. Two years later the plates for 'The Iliad' were published in London but the set of illustrations to 'The Odyssey' which Piroli sent to London never reached their destination. In 1805, the publishers Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme printed new editions of both series, including eleven extra illustrations commissioned from Flaxman (five to 'The Iliad' and six to 'The Odyssey').
Simultaneously, Flaxman was working on another set of Homer illustrations for a "Mr. Udny", likely Robert Fullarton Udney, art collector, Fellow of the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries and brother of the British consul at Leghorn. David Irwin suggested that the differing outlets for these two commissions accounts for the existence of two stylistically differing sets of preparatory drawings for the Homer illustrations, contending that those for Hare-Naylor, which were intended to be engraved for publication, are sparse and linear, whereas those for Udney, intended for private consumption, are modelled and completed with a wash. The outline nature and lack of modelling in these two BM drawings intimates that they fall into the first category, though it is quite possible that such early-stage preparatory drawings as these two examples served for the development of both the Hare-Naylor and Udney commissions.
Flaxman's illustrations are distinguished by their visual economy. Flaxman almost always eschewed background landscape, setting and detail, focusing on figures rendered in pure outline. It has long been recognised that Flaxman drew upon and synthesised a wide variety of visual sources in the development of his outline illustrations, combining Classical figuration from reliefs, sculptures, engravings and ‘Etruscan’ vases with forms derived from medieval and early renaissance sources, life studies and observational sketches of everyday Italian scenes and people. Flaxman's style of illustration was discussed and celebrated by a multitude of critics throughout Europe and had a demonstrable influence on artists including Ingres, Goya and Blake.
The top drawing, 'The Departure of Briseis from the Tent of Achilles', is a rejected compositional idea for this subject. There is another version of this composition, which shows Achilles with his back turned to Briseis as she is led away, in the Huntington collection (Acc. No. 65.6.3) which has firmer outlines and more schematic drapery than the BM one. However, the Huntington also holds a larger, finished drawing of the same composition in pen and wash (Acc. No. 65.6.60) which was presumably for the Udney commission, and this corresponds most closely to the BM drawing in the position of the arms of the second figure on the left and the fall of Breseis's drapery. In the final drawing as engraved by Piroli (Plate 1) Flaxman made a substantial alteration to the composition, depicting Achilles seated and looking at Bresies at the moment of their separation. The second of the two drawings on this sheet is another ultimately rejected compositional idea, this time for the subject of 'Thetis Invoking the Giant Briareus'. The Huntington again has two drawings depicting this same idea (Acc.No.65.6.5; Acc.No.65.6.6) which show Thesis looking down at the giant, who returns the gaze, but these have different backgrounds to the one here. In the final drawing as engraved by Piroli (Plate 2) Flaxman dispensed with much of the background present in the preparatory drawings and reversed the giant's head.
Robert R. Wark, 'Drawings by John Flaxman in the Huntington Collection', 1970.
David Irwin, 'John Flaxman, R.A. 1755-1826', 1979, pp. 67-85.
David Bindman, ed., 'John Flaxman, R.A.', 1979, pp. 86-93.
Deanna Petherbridge, 'Some Thoughts on Flaxman and the Engraved Outlines', Print Quarterly, 27 (2011) pp. 386-391.
- Not on display
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Iliad
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Probably Flaxman sale, Christie's, 10.iv.1862/part of lot 165, 15 in the lot, 'The Iliad. "First Thoughts" for the Iliad; numerous beautiful small pen studies for most of the engraved subjects, on fifteen sheets' bt £9-9-0
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number