In a 1943 letter to the New York Times, written with Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman, Rothko said, "It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints, as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as a good painting about nothing. We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject matter is valid which is tragic and timeless. That is why we profess a spiritual kinship with primitive and archaic art."
Sacrifice of Iphigenia exemplifies Rothko's interest in classical literature.
Describing another painting also inspired by the writings of Aeschylus, Rothko explained: "The
picture deals not with the particular anecdote, but rather with the Spirit of Myth, which is generic to all myths at all times."