Colin Morison

Andromache Offering Sacrifice to Hector’s Shade


Not on display

Colin Morison 1732–1810
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 615 × 760 mm
frame: 803 × 932 × 80 mm
Purchased 1991


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

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Display caption

Andromache is the heroine of the classical story-cycle the Iliad. She is on the right here, surrounded by attendants. In her hand is a dish from which she is pouring libations over the monument to her dead husband, Hector, and calling on his spirit. Hector was the bravest of the Trojan warriors.She is shocked to see a man in the red robes and plumed helmet of a Trojan warrior, on the left here. And she asks if he is Hector’s ghost. This is the soldier Aeneas, in exile after the fall of Troy and looking for a new home.

Gallery label, May 2007

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Technique and condition

This oil painting is on a closely woven, plain linen canvas with rather uneven threads. Its oil-based ground is reddish pink and is smooth except where it has formed reticulations between the canvas threads, a feature found frequently in paintings prepared in Rome during the eighteenth century.

The densely painted, enamel-like surface reveals few clues about its evolution on the canvas. No underdrawing can be detected. Cross-sections reveal that most areas are painted in two layers, the lower being generally paler and cooler than the upper, in the manner of a traditional dead colouring. The drying-cracks in the central red cloak indicate either many layers of paint or the use of resins with the oil. Elsewhere the paint for the final application appears very well bound with sound drying oil and its smoothness suggests the use of soft, small brushes. An X-radiograph shows a slight change in the position of the hand of the figure to the left of Andromache.

The painting is in excellent condition, being unlined and on its original stretcher, a simple rectangle of four oak bars with joints expandable in the vertical direction.

Rica Jones

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