Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens
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History and Politics: Glory to the Hero
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Peter Paul Rubens
Decius Mus Relating His Dreams, ca. 1617
Oil on panel transferred to canvas (1773) in turn transferred to masonite (c. 1954-55), 80.7 x 84.5 cm
Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, 1957.14.2 (1394)


Catalog Entry by Peter C. Sutton

The story of Decius Mus is told by Livy (8.6, 9-10). Publis Decius Mus (the Elder) was a consul and commander of the Roman legions fighting the Latins at Capua. He and his fellow commander, Titus Manlius, both had a dream informing them that one of the two armies engaged in the conflict would have to sacrifice its commander to the gods of the underworld and to Mother Earth, but as a consequence the opposing army would be completely defeated. Each general conveyed the dream to his officers. After consulting a soothsayer who performed a sacrificial offering to the gods, it was determined that Decius Mus must make the ultimate sacrifice. At the command of the highest priest, Decius covered his head with a toga and consecrated himself to the infernal gods with a solemn and dreadful vow. He then threw himself into battle and was killed. Fulfilling the prophecy, the Romans attacked with renewed strength and routed their enemy...


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