1693 - 1761
The Death of Attis

Red chalk on paper
Image size: 9 x 7 inches (23 x 17.75 cm)
Acid free mount and hand made gilt frame


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The Greek god Attis was the spouse of Cybele, the fertility goddess. He was from Phrygia, a kingdom in central Anatolia, and is often depicted wearing a Phrygian cap.  These were made of soft material in a conical shape with the apex bent over to the front.

Attis was about to marry a king’s daughter when, outraged, Cybele drove him mad. This led to Attis castrating and then killing himself under a palm tree, the scene depicted in this drawing. Attis can be seen brandishing his dagger aloft, ready to inflict the final blow. His discarded cap can be seen on the ground to his right.

Attis (French ‘Atys’) was a prominent figure in French artistic culture: there is a celebrated 1780 opera by Piccinni for the Paris Opera, which culminates with Attis’s suicide.

Colin de Vermont’s drawing is free in its rendering with looser lines and forms than would be required from a drawing that was used to make a print. It is likely that this work was intended as a quick preliminary sketch encouraged by the qualities of the medium.

As can be seen here, chalk is especially appropriate for rendering effects of mass and atmosphere. However, from the late Renaissance red chalk began to be used as a medium in its own right for finished drawings.


Many thanks to Professor John Adamson for his identification of the subject.