Death of Messalina

Object Details


Death of Messalina


Francesco Solimena (Italian, 1657 - 1747)




about 1704/1712


Oil on canvas

Object Number:



174 × 230.2 cm (68 1/2 × 90 5/8 in.)

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Solimena here represents the murder of Messalina, third wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius, who had a reputation for promiscuity. Though the emperor forgave Messalina’s adultery, others saw this as a weakness, and a Roman officer ordered her assassination. The dynamic composition illustrates the moment in which a soldier thrusts a sword toward the frightened empress, who grasps his arm in a helpless attempt to fend off the attack.

This may be the only painted representation of the death of Messalina, a story from the Annals  of Tacitus. The subject provided Solimena with an opportunity to engage with a dramatic narrative, whose intensity he heightened by illuminating the figures in the darkness with stark, white light and painting them on a monumental scale. According to his eighteenth-century biographer, Bernardo de' Dominici (1683–1759), Solimena painted this subject for a series of five canvases of historical and mythological subjects for the Procurator Canale 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.
Source: Getty Research Institute, Heim Gallery Records

1971 - 1972

Heim Gallery (London) (London, England)


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


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Spinosa, Nicola. Pittura napoletana del Settecento dal Barocco al Rococò (Naples: Electa, 1986), pp. 107, 194, fig. 31.

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Cappel Bambach, Carmen. "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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