Walking around our galleries, you are sure to find many examples of love: familial, romantic, unrequited, and many other interpretations. This Valentine’s Day, we are here to share the story behind one piece, which is certainly unlike the fairy tales you know: this is the love story of Antiochus and Stratonice, as depicted in a painting by artist Benjamin West.
Like many young, aspiring artists of his day, West embarked on a “Grand Tour” of Europe, spending three years in Rome studying the works of classical antiquity and the Renaissance masters. Drawing from his time in Rome, West derived the subjects of many of his works from ancient history and classical mythology.
Here, he paints a legend loosely based on Greek history. West’s picture tells the story of Seleucus, the king of Syria, who has summoned the eminent Greek physician Erasistratus to diagnose a mysterious ailment afflicting his son Antiochus. After observing the prince’s behavior, the doctor concludes that Antiochus is suffering from unrequited love. West depicts the moment when Erasistratus — taking Antiochus’s pulse — discovers that Antiochus longs for his own stepmother, Stratonice. According to legend, the king gave his wife to his beloved son, saving his life.
Find this love story, depicted in the American Galleries, and many others this Valentine’s Day weekend!