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Domenico Morone, The Rape of the Sabines (after the signal)

Key facts
Full title The Rape of the Sabines (after the signal)
Artist Domenico Morone
Artist dates about 1442 - after 1518
Series Two Cassone Panels with the Rape of the Sabines
Date made about 1490
Medium and support Tempera on spruce
Dimensions 45.4 × 49.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1886
Inventory number NG1212
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Rape of the Sabines (after the signal)
Domenico Morone

This is the second of two panels from a cassone (a large chest made for a domestic setting), which depict one of the founding stories of ancient Rome. When the Romans couldn't find wives, their leader Romulus came up with a devious plan: he invited the neighbouring Sabines to attend some celebratory games so that, at a given signal, the Romans could abduct the young Sabine women.

Romulus appears on a green dais in the centre of this picture: he has given the signal by standing up and drawing his cloak around him. The young men in his entourage are dragging away their guests, while others, presumably more Romans, seem to be rushing to join the action; one climbs a ladder to get up to the stands.

In spite of its unpromising start, the story ended peaceably: the Sabine women accepted their new husbands and persuaded their families to do so also. They were held up as examples of feminine peacemaking and appropriate role models for Renaissance wives.

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Two Cassone Panels with the Rape of the Sabines


These panels come from the front of a cassone, a large chest that was often painted with narrative scenes. Such chests were widely made throughout Italy from about 1400 to the early sixteenth century. They were often associated with marriages, and were one of the items of furniture that a groom was expected to acquire for his home in expectation of his bride.

The decoration of cassoni often reflected this link, providing what were felt to be examples of appropriate behaviour for husbands, wives and children, drawn from classical literature or history. The tale shown here, of how the early Romans abducted women when they couldn't find wives, was part of ancient Roman history. It was recounted by Livy and Plutarch, both of whom were translated into Italian in the fifteenth century.

The panels are painted on two horizontal planks of spruce. They have been cut along their side edges and may originally have been joined together.