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The Rape of the Sabine Women
Peter Paul Rubens
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The legend of the abduction of the Sabine women by the Romans is described by several classical writers. While accounts vary, key details are consistent: Romulus, founder and then king of Rome, had built an impressive city, but there was a shortage of women. He invited the Sabines, who lived in the mountains nearby, to bring their wives and daughters to a festival of chariot racing, intending to seize the unmarried women.

In this painting, Romulus is seated in silhouette. He points towards the women on the dais as a signal to his men to begin the abduction. The women reel back in distress, while in the foreground is a close-up view of the first victims being carried away. Rubens was clearly concerned to emphasise the violence involved, contrasting the dark, determined, muscular Romans with the pale-skinned, wide-eyed helplessness of the women. But he has also eroticised the moment – several of the women have their breasts already exposed, while a soldier lifts the skirts of another.

Key facts
Artist Peter Paul Rubens
Artist dates 1577 - 1640
Full title The Rape of the Sabine Women
Date made probably 1635-40
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 169.9 x 236.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1824
Inventory number NG38
Location in Gallery Room 18
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