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La Victoire de Samothrace, Unknown, 190 BC

The Rape of the Sabines

Poussin

1638

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The Rape of the Sabines is a 17th century masterpiece.

It represents a key moment in the foundation of Rome.

The story goes that Romulus and his twin brother Remus were abandoned as infants in the wild, and only survived thanks to being suckled by a she-wolf.

Romulus later went on to kill his brother and found a city which he named after himself - Rome.

As the city grew in size and importance, the Romans realized that they didn't have enough women.

So they invited their neighbours, the Sabines, to a banquet - and kidnapped all the women.

The episode fascinated artists throughout the centuries.

Some chose to represent the end of the story : when the Sabine men came to save the Sabine women, they refused to come back, preferring to remain Roman.

Others, like Poussin, preferred to represent the violence of the kidnapping itself.

The painting is also famous for its structure : notice how most of the lines point towards the gates, guiding our eyes to the only escape route.

By contrast, Romulus' looms over the scene, his strength emphasised by the strong, parallel lines of the Roman buildings behind him - a symbol of Roman power and supremacy.

La Joconde, de Vinci (1519)

Next:

The Lacemaker

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