The mythological story of Clytie appears in the Metamorphoses of Ovid. According to this tale, Clytie falls in love with the sun - often personified as the god Apollo - and this hopeless and doomed affair ultimately leads to Clytie's transformation into a sunflower. As a sunflower, Clytie can follow the course of the sun as it rides through the sky.
Lord Leighton was obviously inspired by the dramatic possibilities of this myth, and has chosen to depict Clytie moments before her transformation. She is represented as a lovely young woman, kneeling, her arms outstretched to the sky and sun, head tossed back in a final rapture. An altar and column accompany the figure, further reinforcing the composition and establishing the ancient setting.
It is also worth noting that Leighton felt a personal connection to the myth of Clytie, and that this is one of the artist's last - and most haunting - paintings.
More information about the role that Clytie played in Greek myth can be found at Mythography.
The Art of Lord Leighton
In this beautiful book, author Christopher Newall examines the life and works of eminent Victorian artist Frederic Leighton. The chapters deal with Leighton's evolution as a painter, from his early phase as "The Outsider", to success as "The President of the Royal Academy". And there are plenty of gorgeous color images to complement the text.