Briton Riviere was a successor to Landseer (1802–1873; see MMA 1990.75
), his most popular works showing either biblical or classical subjects in which animals feature prominently. When exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1876, the present painting was accompanied by the following verses from book 16 of the Odyssey
: "Then drew she nigh, in shape a stately dame, / Graced with all noble gifts of womanhood: / None save Odysseus saw her; for to few / Of mortal birth the gods reveal themselves. / But the dogs knew her coming, and with whine / And whimpering crouched aloof."
While Riviere’s work elicited an enthusiastic response from the writer for the 1876 Art Journal
, another critic described it scathingly as "an utterly mistaken composition" (Armstrong 1891). What they saw was significantly different from what we see today: in 1892 Shaw-Sparrow noted that Athena "glides" over the arid plain, and so she appeared (in reverse to the picture) in an engraving published three years earlier in the Art Journal
(see Additional Images, fig. 1). While the surface affords no evidence of the change, the figure of the goddess that was originally there emerges clearly in an x-radiograph (see Additional Images, fig. 2). This figure must have been reworked and the background modified while the canvas belonged to Lord Faringdon, in 1893–94, as indicated by the inscribed date. The repainted Athena would seem to illustrate Kestner’s analysis of Riviere’s females as "fierce and retributive" (Joseph Kestner, Mythology and Misogyny: The Social Discourse of Nineteenth-Century British Classical-Subject Painting
, Madison, Wis., 1989, p. 235).
[2012; adapted from Baetjer 2009]