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Hamilton spent much of his life in Rome. His paintings from ancient history, painted there in the 1760s and widely known through prints, were highly influential. The most famous were six subjects from Homer's 'Iliad' of which this, commissioned by Lord Mountjoy and engraved in 1775, was the fifth. Priam, King of Troy, prostrates himself before Achilles to plead for the body of Hector, which Achilles has desecrated in furious revenge for the death of his friend Patroclus; Achilles begins to yield to compassion. The frieze-like composition is derived from Roman sarcophagus sculpture, and the heroic figures, with their emphatic gestures and expressions, from Poussin, whose paintings Hamilton admired.

August 2004