Discovery of Achilles on Skyros

about 1649–50
Nicolas Poussin (French (active in Rome), 1594–1665)


97.5 x 131.1 cm (38 3/8 x 51 5/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

On View

William I. Koch Gallery (Gallery 250)





Knowing that her son was destined to die if he fought in the Trojan War, Achilles’s mother disguised him as a woman and hid him on the island of Skyros among the daughters of King Lycomedes. Sent to find Achilles, the Greek chieftains Ulysses and Diomedes disguised themselves as merchants. As they hoped, Achilles gave himself away by snatching up a sword that they had concealed in their chests of jewelry and clothing. Poussin preferred psychological to physical drama; in this late work, a moment of revelation and recognition is presented by means of figures frozen into carefully structured, clearly legible poses.


Jean-Baptiste de la Curne de Sainte-Palaye (b. 1697 - d. 1781), Paris [see note 1]. Louis-François (b. 1771 - d. 1776), Prince de Conti; May 14, 1777, posthumous Prince de Conti sale, Pierre Rémy, Paris, lot 531, to Pierre Rémy for Nicolas Beaujon; April 24-May 2, 1787, Beaujon sale, Pierre Rémy, Paris, lot 83, to Desmarets [see note 2]. June 4, 1787, acquired by Edward Knight (b. 1734 - d. 1812), London [see note 3]; passed to his nephew, John Knight (b. about 1768 - d. 1850), Kidderminster, England; March 24, 1819, Knight sale, Phillips, London, lot 100, unsold; March 17, 1821, Knight sale, Phillips, London, lot 100. By 1834, John Smith (b. 1781 - d. 1855), London; May 2, 1834, sold by Smith to Stephen Jarret, Clifton, England; 1863, probably still in the Jarret collection [see note 4]. 1880, James Fenton, London; February 26-28, 1880, Fenton sale, Christie's, London, lot 121, to Harris. Anthony F. Reyre, London; 1924, sold by Reyre to D'Atri, Paris; June 24, 1924, sold by D'Atri to Wildenstein and Co., Paris; sold back to D'Atri and then re-sold to Wildenstein, Paris and New York; 1946, sold by Wildenstein to the MFA for $32,000. (Accession Date: June 13, 1946)

[1] According to the catalogue of the Prince de Conti sale (1777).

[2] On the painting's early provenance, see Pierre Rosenberg, Nicolas Poussin, 1594 - 1665 (exh. cat. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, 1994), cat. no. 209. Although Poussin executed several versions of the subject, a sketch by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin after the canvas included in the Prince de Conti sale confirms that this version is the painting today at the MFA.

[3] The provenance from Edward Knight to Stephen Jarret is based on information provided by Burton Fredericksen (correspondence of May 9, 2001, in MFA curatorial file). Also see Joan Lane, " 'The Dark Knight': Edward Knight of Wolverley and his Collections," Apollo (June, 1999): pp. 27, 30.

[4] Jarret is listed as the current owner by A. Andresen, Nicolaus Poussin: Verzeichniss der nach seinen Gemälden gefertigten Kupferstiche (Leipzig, 1863), p. 74, no. 303.

Credit Line

Juliana Cheney Edwards Collection