To complement the building’s classically influenced architecture, Sargent depicted scenes from ancient mythology. He also invented subjects using mythological figures to illustrate the Museum’s role as guardian of the arts. The key painting—the first work of art that visitors see as they ascend the grand staircase—features Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, turning away a figure representing Time, while sheltering with her cape three personifications of the visual arts: Sculpture (left), Painting (right), and, in the pose of Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna (one of Sargent’s many quotations from great art of the past), Architecture.
Architecture, Painting, and Sculpture, Protected by Athena from the Ravages of Time, detail, 1921
Oil on canvas
Rotunda, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Triumph of Religion