National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Agrippina and Germanicus Sir Peter Paul Rubens (artist)
Flemish, 1577 - 1640
Agrippina and Germanicus, c. 1614
oil on panel
overall: 66.4 x 57 cm (26 1/8 x 22 7/16 in.) framed: 91.8 x 81.6 cm (36 1/8 x 32 1/8 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Fund
1963.8.1
On View
From the Tour: Sir Peter Paul Rubens
Object 2 of 8

Roman historians directed glowing praise to Agrippina and her husband Germanicus (died A.D. 19). Tacitus described her as "the glory of her country," while Suetonius claimed he "possessed all the highest qualities of body and mind." Germanicus, adopted son of the emperor Tiberius, was a brilliant general. Agrippina, granddaughter of Augustus, Rome's first emperor, was renowned for devotion and bravery.

For Rubens, the couple's moral virtue was reflected in their physical beauty. Agrippina has a strong face, with glowing skin and golden hair. Notice how subtly Rubens distinguished her ivory complexion from the slightly ruddier face of her husband.

The unusual double-bust format, like the paint's luminous translucent quality, is explained by Rubens' inspiration: ancient cameos. The artist was a great collector of antiquities, including engraved gems. He planned to illustrate a publication of these small-scale sculptures, but the project was never completed. Germanicus' profile here—with aquiline nose, arched brows, and rounded chin—is similar to a design Rubens made possibly after one of his own cameos.

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