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Francesco Solimena, Dido receiving Aeneas and Cupid disguised as Ascanius

Key facts
Full title Dido receiving Aeneas and Cupid disguised as Ascanius
Artist Francesco Solimena
Artist dates 1657 - 1747
Date made 1710
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 207.2 × 310.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1971
Inventory number NG6397
Location Room 32
Collection Main Collection
Dido receiving Aeneas and Cupid disguised as Ascanius
Francesco Solimena

The Aeneid, an epic poem by the Roman writer Virgil, tells the story of Aeneas, a Trojan hero and son of the goddess Venus. In Book I, Aeneas comes to the city of Carthage. Worried for his safety, Venus devises a plot to protect him: she sends Cupid to the city disguised as Aeneas' son Ascanius, to make Dido, Queen of Carthage, fall in love with the hero.

Solimena’s monumental picture shows the disguised Cupid approaching Dido – only we can see the wings and arrows that identify him. Aeneas, wearing a green leather breastplate, holds out a hand to greet the queen. She appears to be interested only in Cupid, ignoring the precious gifts being offered to her. Bright light illuminates the sumptuous draperies and gleaming armour of the foreground figures, as well as Cupid’s chubby body; other attendants look on from the shadows. The stage-like composition was probably inspired by contemporary operatic performances.

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