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Pylades and Orestes Brought as Victims before Iphigenia

Photo credit: Tate

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According to Sir George Beaumont (1753–1827), who presented the present picture to the National Gallery in 1826, the young American artist, Benjamin West, painted Pylades and Orestes 'immediately on his arrival in England', presumably in 1763, when he arrived from Italy (National Gallery, p.56). It was first shown at the annual exhibition of the Society of Artists, London, in 1766, with its companion 'The Continence of Scipio' (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum). West's narrative is taken from the third act of a play by the classical author Euripides (480–406 BC) entitled 'Iphigenia in Taurus'. In the passage depicted by West, Iphigenia, a priestess of Diana, stands in judgement before the semi-naked figures of her brother Orestes (in the red drapery) and his cousin and companion, Pylades, who are brought before her, bound, by the shepherd (centre) who had previously reported their capture. Before Iphigenia, and separating her from the two men, is a low altar upon which the two men are to be sacrificed for their act of sacrilege. Beyond, at the entrance of the temple, is the gold statue of Diana that Orestes had been commanded by the oracle at Delphi to take back to Athens in reparation for the murder of his mother Clytemnestra, and which he had been attempting to seize when arrested.

Tate Britain



Pylades and Orestes Brought as Victims before Iphigenia




Oil on canvas


H 100.3 x W 126.4 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Presented by Sir George Beaumont Bt 1826

Work type


Inscription description

date inscribed

Tate Britain

Millbank, London, Greater London SW1P 4RG England

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