National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Decius Mus Addressing the Legions Sir Peter Paul Rubens (artist)
Flemish, 1577 - 1640
Decius Mus Addressing the Legions, probably 1616
oil on hardboard, transferred from wood and canvas
overall: 80.7 x 84.7 cm (31 3/4 x 33 3/8 in.) framed: 105.1 x 109.2 x 12.7 cm (41 3/8 x 43 x 5 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
Not on View
From the Tour: Sir Peter Paul Rubens
Object 5 of 8

About 340 B.C., the cities of southern Italy revolted against the authority of Rome. At their camp near Naples, the Roman leaders were visited by a divine apparition who declared that the army of one side and the commander of the other must be sacrificed to the Underworld. The prophecy meant that the side that lost its general would be victorious. Here Decius Mus, standing on a dais, tells his troops that, for the sake of Roman victory, he would allow himself to be killed.

Symbolizing Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods, a mighty eagle clutches lightning bolts in its talons and hovers behind Decius Mus. Rubens derived the soldiers' armor, helmets, shields, and military standards from ancient Roman sculpture. The whole composition, in fact, with its large figures silhouetted in the foreground, recalls the appearance of bas-reliefs carved on Roman victory monuments.

The subject is the first in a series of eight tapestry designs on the theme of Decius Mus, which Rubens completed for a Genoese patron. The panel is a small model, that was enlarged by workshop assistants into the full-size picture, called a cartoon, that was sent to weavers in Brussels.

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