Cyrene and Cattle by Edward Calvert (1799-1883). Oil on canvas, inscribed 'CYRENE. EDWARD CALVERT'. Dimension: 9 X 28 inches, 48.4 X 71.3 centimetres
Commentary by Hilary Morgan
Cyrene, daughter of Hypseus, despised spinning, weaving and other womanly pursuits, and preferred to protect her father's flocks by hunting wild beasts. Apollo fell in love with her when he saw her wrestling with a lion and winning. She bore him Aristaeus. The present picture shows her at rest, either on Mount Pelion overlooking her father's cattle or in the country to which Apollo carried her.
Calvert's art, particularly the Chamber Idyll, suggests that he had a relaxed acceptance of eroticism, unlike so many of his Victorian successors. His choice of the extremely unusual subject of Cyrene is part of this attitude and provides an interesting contrast with the more vulnerable classical heroines, such as Danae and Andromeda, chosen by Burne-jones. The unusual subject also reflects Calvert's broad classical erudition. The presence of sculptures from the Parthenon (the Elgin Marbles) in Britain exerted a decisive effect on the development of classicism. The figure of Cyrene suggests that Calvert studied the seated goddesses of the frieze. Calvert's later paintings are very difficult to date, but Cyrene's hairstyle suggests a date in the 1830s or perhaps the 1840s.
Morgan, Hilary, and Peter Nahum. Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Their Century. London: Peter Nahum, 1989. Catalogue number 3.
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Last modified 20 December 2001