[The Illustrated London News reviewer, oddly enough, does not give the painting's title, perhaps because it is a bit long. An illustration of the work can be found in Christopher Wood, Olympian Dreamers, pp. 47-47, and in Leonée and Richard Ormond’s Lord Leighton, pl. 104.] — George P. Landow

Decorated initial M

Mr. Leighton, in a picture nearly as long but narrower than the "Procession of Cimabue," has at last, in some particulars, surpassed that early work. The present picture contains no less than thirty-six figures, of larger size than those in the “Cimabue”— of which, by-the-way, there were about fifty. The subject, like that of the work which nine years ago at once made the artist celebrated, is a processional one, but more friezelike as regards composition — in this respect not unbefitting the classical theme. It is a procession of Syracusan maidens to the temple of Diana to propitiate the virgin goddess on the eve of the marriage of one of their member. The subject was suggested by the second idyl of Theocritus, wherein incidental mention of the custom is made. But it is evident that the picture relates to a period subsequent to that of the Syracusan bucolic poet, and during the Roman domination, seeing that among the spectators of the procession are introduced two Romans and an old cynic, who turns from the splendid ceremony with scornful derision. By selecting Sicily as the scene of the procession the artist was enabled to choose from among the various races which had successively settled in the island, and thus diversify the types of his figures. Accordingly, we have a swarthy beggar, say from Mauritania; and Phoenician and Carthaginian, as well as Roman, damsels; the Hellenic character, however, if not type, in everything very properly prevails. The procession advances within the peribolus or the temple and along its marble platform; the peristyle is seen to the left; the lower portion of a statue of the dreaded goddess (who was reputed to often kill women with her arrows) is visible near the temple, with the attributes of the Greek Artemis; within or near the sacred incloeure are the dark cypress, the olive, the pine, and the orange tree; beyond there is a lower range of the island mountains, and then the deep blue line of the sea. The point of view is placed so low that great port of the figures cut sharply against the sky, which (to be the more vivid foil) is more uniformly white than would be seen in nature. The procession is headed, to the left, by priestesses, the foremost raising her hands invokingly, the remainder bearing sacrificial vessels and instruments, including scissors to cut a votive lock of hair. Next come a group of lovely maidens dressed, according to usage on performing this cere- mony, in their richest attire, crowned with flowers, wreathing garlands. A space in the centre is reserved for the noble bride leading a tamed lioness — an incident specially alluded to by Theocritus. Then follow, balancing the group already mentioned, a cluster of other maidens, with more straggling followers, leading, or bearing the cubs of, tame tigers, panthers, and smaller feline animals — this part of the ceremony being, it appears, peculiar to the island. It will be understood from this detailed description that a subject affording better or more material for a brilliant scenic spectacle of external beauty, natural and physical, could hardly be found; and as such it loses nothing from the noble decorative talent of the painter. The picture is, indeed, almost bewilderingly fascinating in its wealth of beauty and elegance, splendour of colour, and brilliancy of light. The draperies are less conventional than in any recent work by Mr. Leighton; and the style, though mannered, is most seductive. Judged, however, by a higher standard than the decorative, we miss some of the accidental charm and the inner meaning of nature; and it may be questioned whether deeper insight would not (granting it a festive display) have given to some of the maidens, under such circumstances, an expression of virginal bashfulness or of pious reverence when passing the statue and at the threshhold of the temple of the goddess of a still living religion. Nevertheless, the artist's very laudable ambition, as regards scale and choice of subject, ae well as his particular faculty, are so rare in our school that they can hardly be valued too highly.


“Exhibition at the Royal Academy.” The Illustrated London News. 48 (12 May 1866): 474. Hathi Diigital Library Trust version of a copy in the University of Chicago Library. Web. 6 January 2016.

Wood, Christopher. Olympian Dreamers: Victorian Classical Painters, 1860-1914/ London: Constable, 1983.

Created 7 January 2016