European Painting before 1900, Johnson Collection
The Reconciliation of the Romans and Sabines
Jacopo del Sellaio (Jacopo di Archangelo), Italian (active Florence), 1441/42 - 1493
Tempera and gold on panel
Cat. 54John G. Johnson Collection, 1917
This panel would have been part of the decoration of a bedchamber in a patrician Florentine palace. It depicts a story recounted by the Roman historian Livy in which Sabine women—having been abducted by Roman men to populate their colony—plead for peace as they stand between Roman and Sabine armies, clutching the children of their intermarriages. The artist and his patron would have been familiar with Livy’s tale, but the composition does not convey the precarious situation and the courage of the women as dramatically as the words of the historian:
Throwing off all womanish fears in their distress, [the women] went boldly into the midst of the flying missiles with disheveled hair and rent garments. Running across the space between the two armies they tried to stop any further fighting and calm the excited passions by appealing to their fathers in the one army and their husbands in the other.
Such stories, and the works of art representing them, were meant to provide moral lessons for women. The Renaissance humanist Baldassare Castiglione spoke of the present episode as one of the great exemplary models for women, saying that the peace that ensued “greatly increased the power of Rome, thanks to those wise and magnanimous women.”
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