Historical Oriental Rugs & Carpets
in Medieval European Paintings
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The Discovery of Achilles among the Daughters of Lycomedes
Oil on canvas, 129 x 179 cm
Muzeum Narodowe, Warsaw

by Jan de Bray (b. ca. 1627, Haarlem, d. 1697, Haarlem)

The subject is taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Knowing her son was destined to die if he went to fight in the Trojan war, Thethis, a sea nymph, disguised Achilles as a woman and entrusted him to King Lycomedes, in whose palace on the isle of Scyros he lived among the king's daughters. Odysseus and other Greek chieftains were sent to fetch Achilles. They cunningly laid a heap of gifts before the girls - jewellery, clothes and other finery, but among them a sword, spear and shield. When a trumpet was sounded, Achilles instinctively snatched up the weapons and thus betrayed his identity.

In the painting, Odysseus stands in the archway on the left. He has a band slung over his shoulders to support the basket containing Achilles's helmet. Achilles, disguised as a woman, stands on the right, behind a large, decorated chest draped with a costly Oriental carpet. He clasps the hilt of the sword in his right hand and rest the tip of the blade on his left hand. The other characters look on in astonishment. The elegant woman in the foreground offers him a string of pearls from the finely decorated jewellery box in an attempt to cover up his error.

The austere composition, with prominent architecture and figures like statues, give the picture the appearance of a classical theatre performance.