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Rhetoric
Justus of Ghent and workshop
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A lady seated in an alcove points out a passage in a book to a young man kneeling before her. This is Rhetoric, or argument, an allegorical figure who represented one of the seven liberal arts which made up the medieval curriculum. She is one of a series of paintings made in the late 1470s by Justus of Ghent for Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino. Another panel from the series, Music, is also in the National Gallery’s collection.

Both Rhetoric and Music were painted on very large panels, though not the same one, which were cut into segments at an unknown date. The figure of Rhetoric seems to have originally appeared between images of Grammar and Dialectic (once in Berlin, but destroyed in 1945).

Key facts
Artist Justus of Ghent and workshop
Artist dates active about 1460 - 1480
Full title Rhetoric
Series Two Panels made for the Duke of Urbino
Date made probably 1470s
Medium and support Oil on poplar
Dimensions 157.2 x 105.2 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1866
Inventory number NG755
Location in Gallery Room 64
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Two Panels made for the Duke of Urbino

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These large panels are the sole survivors of what must have been one of the most ambitious schemes of interior decoration of the period. They almost certainly came from a series showing the seven liberal arts, which formed the core of medieval learning, as enthroned women. One is clearly Music with her attribute of an organ, while the other has generally been identified as Rhetoric. Two others from the same series were in Berlin but were destroyed in 1945.

The four were painted in the Duchy of Urbino for one of the palaces of Federico da Montefeltro. They would have been hung above eye level in such a way as to conform to the architecture of the room.

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