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Tiberius Gracchus

Date ca. 1493–1494
Object type painting
Medium, technique tempera, oil and gold on wood
Dimensions

107.2 × 51 × 3.9 cm

Inventory number 64
Collection Old Master Paintings
On view This artwork is on view at the permanent exhibition

Tiberius Gracchus is an exemplar of conjugal love and self-sacrifice. After finding two snakes in his house, the Roman consul was advised by soothsayers that he would have to kill one of them – if he killed the female, he would cause his beloved wife Cornelia to die, whereas killing the male would bring about his own death.
Here we see the protagonist as he makes his fateful decision: lifting his heavy cloak, his head bowed, he deftly stabs the male serpent, while the female flees in the opposite direction. Occupying the entire space of the picture, Tiberius Gracchus is portrayed as an idealised young man, standing like a statue of his own
virtue on a pedestal bearing a Latin poem commemorating his noble deed.
The painting formed part of a series extolling marital virtues, executed probably to mark the double wedding of Antonio and Giulio Spannocchi, sons of a wealthy Sienese banker and merchant. The panels, featuring ancient heroes and heroines,
were painted by several different artists, and were placed along a wall in arcade-like frames as spalliera panels (decorated backboards), probably in one of the large halls of the Palazzo Spannocchi in Siena.
The artist, who trained in Siena and worked under the influence of Luca Signorelli, derives his conventional name from a series of paintings held at the National Gallery in London.

This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.

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