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Classical Heroines from a Sienese Bedchamber

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These two Roman heroines, Marcia and Tanaquil, are part of a series of painted panels that decorated the bedchamber of Francesco di Camillo Petrucci (b. 1489), a wealthy merchant and landowner who was nephew of Pandolfo Petrucci, ruler of the republic of Siena. Celebrating themes of love, fertility, and wifely and maternal virtue, the decorations were probably made to coincide with Francesco’s marriage to Caterina di Niccolò Mandoli Piccolomini in 1512 and completed in about 1519.

Six of the paintings still exist, though they are in different collections. Three show Roman heroines (the one not in the National Gallery depicts Cornelia) and two feature the Roman festivals of Lupercalia and Cerealia, which were associated with male fertility and female fecundity. A painting of Venus and Cupid probably decorated the bedhead. The paintings of the three heroines and Lupercalia each contain a Latin couplet in gilt lettering likely to have been devised by the scholar responsible for the decorative programme.

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