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Domenico Beccafumi, The Story of Papirius

Key facts
Full title The Story of Papirius
Artist Domenico Beccafumi
Artist dates 1484 - 1551
Date made mid 1520s
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 74 × 137.8 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by George Salting, 1894
Inventory number NG1430
Location Gallery B
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Story of Papirius
Domenico Beccafumi

The Roman boy Papirius was sworn to secrecy by his father when he accompanied him to the Senate. When his mother asked him what had been discussed, Papirius lied and claimed they had debated whether it was better for a man to have two wives or a woman two husbands. Papirius’s mother rallied the matrons of Rome to petition the Senate that women might have two husbands. Their appeal was met by outrage. Papirius came forward to explain the confusion. Impressed by the boy’s wit, the Senate honoured him with the surname Praetextatus, after the toga praetexta worn by young boys.

Beccafumi represents the two episodes of the tale in a continuous narrative. On the far left, Papirius, wearing a short purple toga praetexta refuses to betray the senators. To the right, the matrons of Rome flock to the Senate, while at the centre of the hall Papirius is shown again explaining the misunderstanding. The panel probably once formed part of a series for the bedchamber of a palace in Siena.

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