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After the suicide of Seneca the Younger, the Emperor Nero orders the arrest of the suicide of Seneca's wife Pompeia Paulina. Oil painting by an Italian painter, ca. 1750.


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Description

The event described by Tacitus, Annals XV.60-64. Nero enters the room on the left. A man on the right writing with a quill pen in a codex represents one of the "advocati scriptores" recording Seneca's final thoughts. A pointing man beyond Nero presumably represents the tribune Gavius Silvanus who had carried the death sentence to Seneca from the emperor

Physical description

1 painting : oil on canvas ; canvas 184 x 242 cm

Publications note

Michael Trapp, 'Does this painting show Octavius discovering Cleopatra with the body of Antony?', Art detective website, January 2017 ("No, this is the joint suicide of Seneca and his wife Paulina, as described by Tacitus in Annals 15.60-64. The Emperor Nero is intervening to prevent the death of Paulina; the man at the desk with the writing materials is Seneca's secretary, who has been recording the philosophical thoughts he dictated as he died.")

Reference

Wellcome Library no. 47415i

Creator/production credits

Two other paintings are attributed to the same hand: (1) Christie's, London, 30 October 1998, Old Master Pictures, lot 84, described as "Italian School, circa 1720. The rape of the Sabine women, oil on canvas 182.3 x 243 cm. (i.e. the same size as the Wellcome painting); (2) Sotheby's, London, 8 July 2004, Old Master Paintings, lot 163, described as "North Italian School, early 18th century. An allegorical subject, possibly the Ides of March"; oil on canvas, 157 x 183 cm., in the original giltwood frame. An emperor crowned with laurel enters the room, right. An imperial throne is being prepared for him, left background, with the Hapsburg arms above and allegories of the virtues around. He is greeted by groups of hostile orientals. Sotheby's comment: "The precise subject of this painting remains elusive. It may very well represent the assassination of Julius Caesar, but the presence of figures representing the Christian, Islamic and Judaic faiths rather than Romans, together with the presence of the Imperial Habsburg regalia suggest that it may have had a wider allegorical meaning or served as an admonition on the dangers of misrule. The painter seems to have been closely aware of the work of the Venetian Giambattista Pittoni (1687-1767) but the slightly mannered style and rich colouring suggest that he may have been one of Pittoni's followers working not in Venice but in Vienna, the centre of Habsburg rule." There is also a resemblance to the compositions of Jean Jouvenet, e.g. his painting of Christ in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Dijon)

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