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In Greek mythology the Minotaur, half-man, half-bull, was appeased by the annual sacrifice of virgins brought from mainland Athens to Crete. Watts shows the creature gazing out to sea in eager anticipation of his prey; the small bird crushed by his mighty fist symbolises the purity and vulnerability of youth.

The painting was inspired by a lurid exposure of the traffic in child prostitution by a journalist named WT Stead. The article, called ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’ and published in the Pall Mall Gazette in July 1885, was intended as an indictment of male lust.

September 2004