After Decius Mus has heard his fate pronounced by the High Priest of Rome, he receives the last rites from him and recites a formulaic prayer for death: “Janus, Jupiter, Father Mars, ye household gods, ye newly adopted gods, ye gods of Rome, ye heavenly ones under whose power we and the enemy stand, and ye gods of the dead, I beg and implore ye: give the people of the city of Rome superior might and victory, but unleash fear, havoc and death on their enemies. As I have expressly promised here, on behalf of the state of Rome, the army and its legions, I now commend the legions of the enemy and myself to the gods of death and to the earth, as sacrifice.” The Romans called this solemn rite "devotio".

As was custom, Decius Mus stands with both feet on an arrow and receives the High Priest’s blessing, with his voluminous red toga, drawn over his head, emphasizing the devout inclination of his body. The priest’s brocade robe, embroidered in gold and gleaming in the light, reinforces the solemnity of the scene. Incidentally, in his depiction of material qualities, Rubens takes up an old Netherlandish tradition here. The poses of the others involved in the scene relate to the two central figures: a witness enveloped in his robe accompanies the priest, while two soldiers lead the commander’s war horse in from the right. The horse inclines its head deeply, thus repeating Decius’s gesture of humility.
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Peter Paul Rubens
Decius Mus preparing for Death, 1616/1617
Oil on canvas
height 284 cm, width 336 cm
Inv.-No. GE49
Provenance: 1616 contract between Peter Paul Rubens and the tapestry manufacturers Jan Raes and Frans Sweerts in Brussels and the dealer Franco Cattaneo from Genoa; 1661 the cycle falls into the possession of the painter and collector Carel de Witte, Gonzales Conques and Jan Baptist van Eyck in Antwerp ("The Interpretation of the Victim" and probably "Trophy" did not come into their possession until after 1661, both most likely bear the imperial seal), 1692 in van Eyck’s estate inventory in Antwerp ("The Dismissal of the Lictors" cannot be traced definitely in the estate inventory); 1693 acquired by Prince Johann Adam Andreas I von Liechtenstein from the dealer Marcus Forchoudt in Antwerp, exhibited in a gallery in the Liechtenstein City Palace in Bankgasse in Vienna, from 1807 to 1945 the cycle has remained in its current location
Further works on display
Decius Mus relating his dream, 1616/1617
The Interpretation of the Victim, 1616/1617
The Dismissal of the Lictors, 1616/1617
The Death of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Obsequies of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Trophy, 1616/1617
The Lamentation, c. 1612
The Assumption of the Virgin, c. 1637
Portrait of Jan Vermoelen, 1616
Oil sketch of Mars and Rhea Silvia, c. 1616/1617
Venus in Front of the Mirror, 1614/1615
Portrait of Clara Serena Rubens, c. 1616
The Discovery of the Infant Erichthonius, c. 1616
Double Portrait of Albert and Nikolaus Rubens, c. 1626/1627
Mars und Rhea Silvia, c. 1616/1617
Christ Triumphant over Sin and Death, 1615/1622
Henry IV seizes the Opportunity to conclude Piece, 1628
Allegory of war, 1628
The Victory of Henry IV at Coutras, 1628
Apollo in the Chariot of the Sun, 1621/1625
The Virgin adorned with flowers, 1609/1610
The Conversion of St. Paul, 1601/1602
St. Francis of Assisi before the Crucified Christ, 1625
The Hunt of Meleager and Atalanta, 1628 (?)
Landscape with Milkmaids and Cows, 1616
Perseus and Andromeda
St. Catherine in the Clouds, 1620/1621
Diana´s Hunt, 1628
Psyche taken up into Olympus, 1621
Three Music-Making Angels, on the reverse side of St Joachim, 1615/1620
Four Music-Making Angels, on the reverse side of St Anne, 1615/1620
Portrait of a Monk (?)
Adoration of the Magi, 1609/1610
The Visitation, 1611/1612
The Consecration of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Obsequies of Decius Mus
Ganymede, 1611/1612
The Assumption of the Virgin, modello, 1637
Samson and Delilah, c. 1610
Satyr and Maid with Fruit Basket, 1615
Portrait of Nicolaas Rockox, 1615
Related themes
Rubens in Wien
The Decius Mus Cycle
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