This painting depicting Captive Andromache was inspired by an ancient epic - the Iliad of Homer. In the poem, the character of Andromache is brought vividly to life. And Lord Leighton in turn translated the drama of the Greek heroine’s story into a compelling, timeless image.
According to Homer’s Iliad, Andromache was the wife of the Trojan hero Hector. During the course of the Trojan War, Hector was killed, and his lovely young wife taken captive by the victorious Greeks. Andromache eventually became the mistress of the conquering hero Neoptolemus (the son of Achilles). She was treated as a prize of war, and forced to accompany her new master to the far-off land of Epirus.
The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy with the following quotation (a translation by Elizabeth Barrett Browning):
“Some standing by,
Marking thy tears fall, shall say ‘This is she,
The wife of that same Hector that fought best
Of all the Trojans when all fought for Troy’.”
Andromache’s loss and sadness are evident in this painting. The Greek heroine stands alone in the center of the composition, covered by symbolic black draperies. While she stands motionless, head downcast, she is framed by active men, women, and children who are clad in bright, vibrant clothing. This visual contrast emphasizes Andromache’s poignant isolation.