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Medea Slaying her ChildrenEnlarge image

Medea Slaying her Children, c. 1761

Jean-Honoré Fragonard
French, 1732 - 1806
black chalk on laid paper, mounted on laid paper
21.1 x 24.8 cm
Gift of the Royal Trust Company, Montreal, 1962
National Gallery of Canada (no. 9843)

Medea's murder of her children was not a common subject in the eighteenth century. The action depicted here takes place in Corinth, where Jason, husband of the witch-priestess Medea, has fallen in love with Glauce. Insane with rage, Medea has killed Glauce and her father. Now about to slay her own offspring, fathered by Jason, Medea is held back by the spirit of Pity, while Madness, seated on a throne and waving a jester's staff, incites her to pursue her dire plan. The fleeing figures on the left are thought to represent Reason and Virtue. In this drawing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, the rendering suggestive of antique relief, the drapery, and the architecture provide a foretaste of the Neoclassicism that would become ubiquitous in the 1780s.

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