“After the prayer for death, Decius Mus ordered his lictors to go to Titus Manlius and immediately to tell his fellow consul that he had commended himself to death on behalf of the army. Then the consul, wrapped in the toga he had slung over his shoulder and fully armed, leaped on to his horse and charged in among the enemy.” Livy describes the moment of farewell away from the battle, which is already raging. Rubens chooses not to place the scene in a narrative context, but isolates it. Rubens based the imposing figure of the hero armed for battle on the Roman statue of Mars Utor. The original from the temple of the same name in the Forum Augusteum in Rome is lost, but a Roman copy survives (Museo Capitolino, Rome). Rubens borrowed the basic features of the head, the helmet and armour types. The commander’s silhouette stands out impressively against the background. His pose expresses both the present and the future: he stands with his left foot firmly on the ground, dismissing the lictors with an eloquent gesture, but his right hand is already placed on his horse and his right foot is poised to mount. The lictors’ inclined heads show that they are reluctant to obey the order; they take a final look over their shoulders to bid farewell to their consul. They bear his emblems of office, the so-called fasces (bundles of rods tied around an axe), away with them. Decius Mus thus also bids farewell to his office as consul before his last service to the people of Rome. The view between the parting figures reveals a landscape that Rubens added as a reminder of his stay in Italy, the ruined Roman Temple of Minerva Medica.
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Peter Paul Rubens
The Dismissal of the Lictors, 1616/1617
Oil on canvas
height 286 cm, width 343 cm
Inv.-No. GE50
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
Decius Mus preparing for Death, 1616/1617
The Death of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Obsequies of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Interpretation of the Victim, 1616/1617
The Trophy, 1616/1617
The Assumption of the Virgin, c. 1637
Venus in Front of the Mirror, 1614/1615
Oil sketch of Mars and Rhea Silvia, c. 1616/1617
Mars und Rhea Silvia, c. 1616/1617
The Discovery of the Infant Erichthonius, c. 1616
Satyr and Maid with Fruit Basket, 1615
The Lamentation, c. 1612
Christ Triumphant over Sin and Death, 1615/1622
Double Portrait of Albert and Nikolaus Rubens, c. 1626/1627
Portrait of Jan Vermoelen, 1616
Portrait of Clara Serena Rubens, c. 1616
Henry IV seizes the Opportunity to conclude Piece, 1628
The Victory of Henry IV at Coutras, 1628
The Consecration of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Obsequies of Decius Mus
Three Music-Making Angels, on the reverse side of St Joachim, 1615/1620
St. Catherine in the Clouds, 1620/1621
Four Music-Making Angels, on the reverse side of St Anne, 1615/1620
Apollo in the Chariot of the Sun, 1621/1625
The Conversion of St. Paul, 1601/1602
Perseus and Andromeda
The Virgin adorned with flowers, 1609/1610
Psyche taken up into Olympus, 1621
Landscape with Milkmaids and Cows, 1616
Allegory of war, 1628
The Hunt of Meleager and Atalanta, 1628 (?)
The Assumption of the Virgin, modello, 1637
Ganymede, 1611/1612
Diana´s Hunt, 1628
St. Francis of Assisi before the Crucified Christ, 1625
Portrait of a Monk (?)
Adoration of the Magi, 1609/1610
The Visitation, 1611/1612
Portrait of Nicolaas Rockox, 1615
Samson and Delilah, c. 1610
Related themes
Rubens in Wien
The Decius Mus Cycle
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