Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens
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Landscape and Hunt Scenes: Projects for Philip IV
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Peter Paul Rubens
The Death of Silvia's Stag, ca. 1638
Oil on panel, 23.2 x 52.6 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art: John G. Johnson Collection, 1917, inv. J#663


Catalog Entry by Peter C. Sutton

Virgil's Aeneid (7.475-508) recounts the origins of the war between the Trojans and the Rutuli. Aeneas's son, Ascanius, mortally wounded a stag that was the favorite pet of Silvia, daughter of the shepherd Tyrrhus. Silvia's enraged brothers and other shepherds took up whatever arms they could find and attacked Ascanius, who was supported by his fellow Trojans. In Rubens's sketch Silvia is seated at the right comforting the dying stag. A second woman (or, according to Julius Held, another image of Silvia) stands above crying out for revenge. At the left the shepherds armed with sticks, pitchforks, and flails engage the Trojans and beat back their dogs. The foremost rider who brandishes a javelin is probably Ascanius; as Arnout Balis observed (1986, p. 251), the warrior before him is identifiable as a Trojan by his Phrygian cap. Although he first mistakenly proposed that the subject was the Sacred Stag of Artemis Killed by Agamemnon, Held was the first to correctly identify the theme in 1947...


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