Livy reports that the body of Decius Mus was discovered among a pile of the slain enemy the next day, and Titus Manlius then arranged a solemn funeral. He supplies no further detail about the funeral ceremony itself, however.

Rubens presents it as a magnificent victory celebration, with Decius Mus lying in the centre of a richly carved, gilded couch. The second consul, whom fate has spared, now appears for the first time: he points to the captured weapons and severed enemy heads being piled up as a sign of victory. Wood for the cremation is being cut to the sound of tubas blown by soldiers in the background, and precious booty in the form of gold and silver vessels and jewellery is being carried in. Humbly bowed, fettered Latins sit in the foreground, their womenfolk dragged in by their hair and clothes.

Rubens borrowed these motifs from the Gemma Austea (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), a world-famous and equally valuable ancient cameo showing a Roman victory celebration. Rubens had clearly examined it closely, as evinced by his drawn copy (St. Annen-Museum, Lübeck). In the painting, all this emotionally charged activity is concentrated to provide a contrast with the motionless corpse of Decius Mus in the centre. His red toga, which marks him as consul, has identified him throughout the narrative; it is now also associated with the hero’s blood sacrifice.
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Peter Paul Rubens
The Obsequies of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
Oil on canvas
height 289 cm, width 515 cm
Inv.-No. GE52
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 Dismissal of the Lictors, 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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