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Achille sulle rive del mare Egeo

Achille sulle rive del mare Egeo
signed 'G. de Chirico' (lower right)
oil on canvas
15 1⁄8 x 21 5⁄8 in. (38.3 x 55 cm.)
Painted circa 1952
(Probably) Cafiso Galleria d'Arte, Milan.
Anonymous sale, Farsetti, Prato, 26 May 2007, lot 674.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 25 June 2008, lot 518.
Acquired by the present owner at the above sale.
M. Merrony, ed., Mougins Museum of Classical Art, Mougins, 2011, no. 35, p. 330 (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions).
M. Merrony, ed., Musée d'Art Classique de Mougins, La collection de la famille Levett, Mougins, 2012, p. 90 (illustrated).
Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico, eds., Giorgio de Chirico, Catalogo generale, vol. I, Opere dal 1912 al 1976, Rome, 2014, no. 257, pp. 253 & 457 (illustrated p. 253; Bibliografia, no. 257, p. 53).
Musée d'Art Classique de Mougins, 2011-2023 (Inv. no. MMoCA26MA).

Brought to you by

Claudio Corsi
Claudio Corsi Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

De Chirico’s Achille sulle rive del mare Egeo is filled with dramatic tension and thundering with anticipation. Achilles, the Greek hero famed for his unparalleled skills in battle, and immortalized in Homer’s eighth century B.C. epic poem The Iliad, triumphantly rides a gleaming white horse, whose glowing red eyes emanate other-worldliness. With his blazing red cloak billowing out behind him, and his forearm pulling taut the reins of his lively horse, Achilles radiates vivacity and tenacity. In front of Achilles two soldiers linger on the shore and, despite their brilliant silver helmets, appear listless in comparison to their general.

The scene most likely illustrates a passage from Book 19 of The Iliad, where Achilles, who had previously withdrawn from fighting in the Trojan War after quarrelling with Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek army, decides to return to the fray. In the poem, Achilles’ mother, the goddess Thetis, has just given him a divine set of armour, made by the blacksmith god Hephaestus, and Achilles processes along the shore rousing the dejected Greek troops. Without Achilles the Greek army had been suffering defeat after defeat from the Trojans, and Achilles’ return marks a change in the success of the Greek efforts.

'But he, godlike Achilles, went along the shore of the sea
crying his terrible cry, and roused the Achaean warriors.
And even those who before had remained in the gathering place of the ships,
those who were helmsmen and held the steering oars of the ships
and those who were stewards beside the ships, the distributors of food,
even they then came to assembly, because Achilles
had appeared; he who for a long time abandoned the painful battle.' (Homer, The Iliad, 19.40-19.47, trans. C. Alexander, London, 2017, p. 410).

De Chirico captures this powerful sense of change in the present work, and Achilles, with his piercing frontal gaze, is the figure of action.

Having spent his childhood in Greece and part of his young adulthood in Italy, de Chirico was tied to two of the epicentres of classical culture. Thus, antiquity and its legacy held a strong influence over his art. Achille sulle rive del mare Egeo was painted circa 1952, after the artist’s pivotal move away from the Metaphysical style he pioneered. While de Chirico embraced classical motifs and themes throughout his oeuvre, his early works are known for their dreamlike piazzas and their motionless classical sculptures.

Following the 1920s, the artist began to incorporate classical motifs in new ways, breaking away from this conjured serenity towards canvases filled with movement, complete with vibrant, jewel-toned palettes, and expressive brushstrokes. These works reveal the relationship between modernity and antiquity, exposing and exploring not just the classical past, but the very idea of the ‘Classical’. Thus, in the present lot, de Chirico introduces a modern mythology, where chronologies were fused, and the Antique was to be defined not by how it once was, but by how it has been interpreted and embraced over time.

De Chirico’s art puts Archaic Greek mythology into dialogue with its reception, and his paintings from the 1950s, in particular, are almost palimpsestic, weaving together art historical traditions. With touches of Hellenistic, Old Master, and neo-Baroque influences, the artist’s work entwines styles and movements, exemplified in the present work by the Renaissance flare of the soldier’s helmets, and by Achilles, whose golden laurel wreath crowns him as the embodiment of Roman military triumph. Bedecked in golden robes and on horseback, Achilles is depicted as a captivating leader, a heroic general, ready for battle, akin to the second century B.C. Pompeiian mosaic of Alexander the Great, a Roman portrayal of Greek heroism. A moment of revelation, brought to life through thick, gestural brushstrokes, Achille sulle rive del mare Egeo is a revitalisation of antiquity and its cultural resonances throughout history, which continues to pulsate to the present day.

More from Ancient to Modern Art from the Mougins Museum of Classical Art, Part I

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