Death of Messalina

Object Details


Death of Messalina


Francesco Solimena (Italian (Neapolitan), 1657 - 1747)




about 1704/1712


Oil on canvas


165.4 x 223.8 cm (65 1/8 x 88 1/8 in.)

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A Roman soldier pulls back his sword to stab the Empress Messalina, Emperor Claudius's spectacularly unfaithful wife, fending off her mother attempts to intercede. A guard, who was in on the murder plot, observes calmly from the shadows in the background. A bright, theatrical spotlight emphasizes the intersection of arms and the drama of the life-and-death conflict.

This may be the only painted representation of the death of Messalina, a story from the Annals of Tacitus. Why Francesco Solimena took or was given this subject is unknown, yet its inherent drama and potential for passion suited the Baroque taste. Characteristically, Solimena heightened the moment's intensity by creating monumental figures on an already huge canvas and presenting only the essentials of a setting. According to his eighteenth-century biographer, Solimena painted this subject for a series of five canvases of historical and mythological subjects for the state attorney in Venice.

about 1704/12 - still in 1742

Probably Gerolamo Canale, procuratore di San Marco (Venice, Italy), commissioned from the artist, about 1704/12.

by 1753 -

Private Collection (Saxony, Germany)

- 1971

Frieda Hinze (Berlin, Germany), sold to Heim Gallery and Artibus in half shares, 1971.

1971 - 1972

Heim Gallery (London) (London, England)

1971 - 1972

and Artibus (London, England), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1972.


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Cappel, Carmen Bambach. "Francesco Solimena, 1657-1747." In A Taste for Angels: Neapolitan Painting in North America 1650-1750, exh. cat. (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1987) pp. 181-82, fig. 78.

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