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Jean-Joseph Taillasson, Virgil reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia

Key facts
Full title Virgil reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia
Artist Jean-Joseph Taillasson
Artist dates 1745 - 1809
Date made 1787
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 147.2 × 166.9 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated and inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1974
Inventory number NG6426
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Virgil reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia
Jean-Joseph Taillasson

The poet Virgil is depicted reading the closing lines of Book VI of his epic poem the Aeneid to the Emperor Augustus and his sister Octavia. The words of the text are legible on his scroll. He describes Aeneas’ journey into the underworld, where the Trojan hero meets great Romans from the future. Among them is a young man with a shadow hanging over his head, who turns out to be Octavia’s recently deceased son Marcellus, causing her to clutch her heart and faint.

This was an unusual subject in art of the period, bringing together Taillasson’s interests in classical history, antique art, theatrical performance and the power of art and literature to move the emotions. The principal figures in the painting are all derived from classical sculptures. The painting aroused considerable interest when it was exhibited at the 1787 Paris Salon.

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