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Anthony van Dyck, St Ambrose barring Theodosius from Milan Cathedral

Key facts
Full title The Emperor Theodosius is forbidden by Saint Ambrose to enter Milan Cathedral
Artist Anthony van Dyck
Artist dates 1599 - 1641
Date made about 1619-20
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 149 × 113.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1824
Inventory number NG50
Location Room 21
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
St Ambrose barring Theodosius from Milan Cathedral
Anthony van Dyck

In this painting, Saint Ambrose (about 340–398), Bishop of Milan, stops the Emperor Theodosius (about 346–395) and his retinue from entering the city’s cathedral. This was a punishment for Theodosius‘ massacre of the people of Thessalonica, who had murdered his general, Butheric.

This story was recorded in the Golden Legend, a medieval compilation of saints’ lives. It also recounts how Saint Ambrose rebuked the arrogance of the Emperor’s follower Ruffinus, declaring ‘Thou hast no more shame than a hound’ – something Van Dyck references by depicting a dog at Ruffinus' feet.

This picture is based on a larger version of the subject by Peter Paul Rubens (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), painted around 1615 to 1616. Van Dyck worked in Rubens’s studio as his assistant, and was heavily influenced by the older artist.

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