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Style of Anthony van Dyck, The Horses of Achilles

Key facts
Full title The Horses of Achilles
Artist Style of Anthony van Dyck
Artist dates 1599 - 1641
Date made 1635-45
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 105.5 × 91.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Lord Farnborough, 1838
Inventory number NG156
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Horses of Achilles
Style of Anthony van Dyck

Two horses run wild across a flat, earthy plain against a cloudy sunset. These are Xanthus and Balius, the immortal horses of the Greek hero Achilles. They were the offspring of Zephyrus, the god of the west wind, who may be personified by the winged head which is about to expel a mouthful of air.

Achilles was a central character in Homer’s Iliad, an ancient Greek epic poem about the Trojan War. As an infant he had been dipped in the Styx, a river of the underworld with the power to make people immortal, although one heel was left dry. This made him seemingly invincible, but he was finally killed by an arrow to that vulnerable spot.

The painting was traditionally thought to be by Anthony van Dyck, and it does display the liveliness of his studies of Andalusian horses. But, in 1966, cleaning revealed that it was probably painted at a later date by another artist in the style of the great Flemish master.

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