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Belisarius receiving Hospitality from a Peasant
Jean-François-Pierre Peyron
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The painting represents an episode in Belisaire, a novel by Jean-François Marmontel, published in 1767. The novel is based on the legend of Belisarius, the Byzantine general (about 505–565) who according to this account was blinded and impoverished by the Roman emperor Justinian. Peyron depicts the episode when Belisarius is given hospitality at the home of a peasant who recognises the hero fallen on hard times. The two women of the family place their infants on his knee to give him thanks and receive his blessing. The peasant’s son looks away from his wife and child as he contemplates his former general. Peyron uses contrasting light and shade and different spaces to underline the emotional conflict.

This picture is the finished sketch for a painting now in the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse. A finished sketch for its companion painting, Cornelia Mother of the Gracci, is also in our collection.

Key facts
Artist Jean-François-Pierre Peyron
Artist dates 1744 - 1814
Full title Belisarius receiving Hospitality from a Peasant
Series Two Scenes from Ancient Roman History
Date made 1779
Medium and support Oil on paper laid down on canvas
Dimensions 55 x 84.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bought, 1995
Inventory number NG6551
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Two Scenes from Ancient Roman History

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These are preparatory works, known as modelli, for paintings by Peyron now in the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse. The paintings were commissioned by the abbé de Bernis, who became Archbishop of Rouen.

In the first picture, painted in 1779, the ancient Byzantine general Belisarius is given hospitality at the home of a peasant who recognises the hero fallen on hard times. The second picture, signed and dated 1781, represents the story of the Roman heroine Cornelia. After a friend boasted about the jewels she owned, Cornelia Africana, a widowed Roman matron and mother of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus (known as the Gracchi), declared her sons to be her jewels. Here Cornelia holds the hands of her young sons, in contrast to the pearl necklace and expensive fabrics held by her friend. The Cornelia may have been made as a companion painting for the Belisarius.

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