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Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi
Jean-François-Pierre Peyron
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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. Like Peyron’s Belisarius receiving Hospitality from a Peasant whose Son looks on (also in our collection), this work is intended as a good example to show the importance of moral over material values.

The background architecture echoes that in Peyron’s Belisarius, suggesting that even if that picture was not conceived with a companion picture in mind, the Cornelia may later have been made to hang with it. Both pictures were created as preparatory works for the final paintings in the Musée des Augustins,Toulouse.

Key facts
Artist Jean-François-Pierre Peyron
Artist dates 1744 - 1814
Full title Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi
Series Two Scenes from Ancient Roman History
Date made 1781
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 54.5 x 84.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bought, 1995
Inventory number NG6552
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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