Colin Morison
Andromache Offering Sacrifice to Hector’s Shade c.1760

Artwork details

Colin Morison 1732–1810
Andromache Offering Sacrifice to Hector’s Shade
Date c.1760
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 615 x 760 mm
frame: 803 x 932 x 80 mm
Acquisition Purchased 1991
Not on display


This is the only known painting by the Scottish neo-classical painter, sculptor and antiquary, Colin Morison. It is based upon a story told in Virgil's Aeneid. Following his forced exile from Troy, Aeneas and his followers set sail in search of a new home. In the course of his travels Aeneas arrives at the hill city of Buthrotum, ruled by Helenus, brother of the slain Trojan hero, Hector, and now husband of Hector's widow, Andromache. In a wooded grove near the city, Aeneas meets Andromache, who is offering a libation to Hector's ashes and calling upon his spirit. As Aeneas approaches, Andromache is shocked to see him in the armour and headdress of a Trojan warrior and asks whether he is a living being or a ghost. It is this moment that Morison sought to capture in the present work. Aeneas is pictured in profile to the left, behind him are his young son, Ascanius, who clings to his cloak, and his aged father, Anchises, wringing his hands. To the right stands Andromache, dressed in a yellow gown, and supported by attendants. Behind, in the centre, is the citadel of Buthrotum, a 'little Troy' built by Helenus to resemble the old citadel.

Morison was born in Deskford, Banffshire, in 1732. After graduating from Marischal College, Aberdeen, in 1753, he moved to Rome, where he spent the remainder of his life. He worked initially as a painter and sculptor. Through the recommendation of his patron, Lord Deskford, he began to take lessons from the neo-classical painter, Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779), and by 1758 was established in Mengs's household. At some point during the early to mid 1760s Morison's eyesight was partially damaged by a shooting accident while hunting. This injury caused him to give up painting. Subsequently he concentrated on making and restoring sculptures, and pursuing his antiquarian interests.

The picture was commissioned from Lord Deskford's nephew, James Grant of Castle Grant (1738-1811), who arrived in Italy in 1759. During his time in Rome Grant bought a number of works by contemporary artists, including his own portrait from the French artist, Louis-Gabriel Blanchet (1705-72), and another from the Scot, Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798), whose portrait of Grant was copied by Morison in July 1760. Grant also commissioned two historical landscapes from the Irish landscape painter, John Plimmer (c.1725-60), as well as history paintings from Hamilton and Nathaniel Dance (1735-1811). Upon leaving Italy Grant left these commissions in the hands of his kinsman, the Abbé Peter Grant, observing casually, 'how they are to be paid for God knows, - but that is the least of our thoughts.' (Skinner 1957, p 238). On 22 October 1760 the Abbé Grant reported that Morison was about to send James Grant a 'drawing of the composition he had projected' (quoted in Ingamells 1997, p.680). This drawing was probably his design for Andromache Offering Sacrifice to Hector's Shade.

Further reading:

Basil Skinner, 'A Note on Four British Artists in Rome', The Burlington Magazine, 99, July 1957, pp.237-8
John Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701-1800, compiled from the Brinsley Ford Archive, New Haven and London 1997, p.419, pp.679-82

Martin Postle
July 2000