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Giulio Licinio, The Continence of Scipio

Key facts
Full title The Continence of Scipio
Artist Giulio Licinio
Artist dates about 1527; died after 1584
Series Scenes from Ancient Roman History
Date made after 1566
Medium and support Oil on canvas, transferred from wood
Dimensions 35.6 × 153 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG643.2
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Continence of Scipio
Giulio Licinio

The Continence of Scipio is one of a series of paintings that show scenes from ancient Roman history. They were probably intended to be inserted into wall panelling. Three other pictures in the series are in the National Gallery’s collection: The Attack on Cartagena, The Rape of the Sabines and The Intervention of the Sabine Women.

The painting depicts an event that reveals the Roman general Scipio Africanus’s clemency as a military leader. During Scipio’s campaign against the Carthaginians in Iberia his troops took a beautiful young woman prisoner. Here, the young woman stands behind the seated Scipio in a modest pose based on classical statues of Venus (known in Latin as Venus pudica). Rather than abusing her, Scipio allows the young woman to return to her fiancé, provided that her family become friends of Rome. The ransom raised by her family is being unloaded from camels, but Scipio returns it as a wedding gift, thereby showing both financial and sexual restraint.

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Scenes from Ancient Roman History


These four pictures are from a series of paintings of scenes from ancient Roman history. They were made for the decoration of a room and were originally painted on panel but have since been transferred to canvas. Their size and horizontal format suggests they were probably intended to be inserted into wall panelling, as was common practice in Renaissance Venice.

The pictures in the National Gallery’s collection show: The Attack on Cartagena; The Continence of Scipio; The Rape of the Sabines; and The Intervention of the Sabine Women. Two other pictures from the same series, Coriolanus and Scipio rewarding the Soldiers, are in a private collection.