Sunday, August 15, 2010

Classical Barbarians

The Death of Viriathus the chief of the Lusitanians (1807) by the Spanish painter José de Madrazo y Agudo (1781-1859).

Viriathus was the most important leader of the Lusitanian when they resisted Roman expansion into the regions of Western Hispania, today Portugal. Viriathus fought with great success against the Romans until he was betrayed to the Romans and killed in138 BC.

So it’s not astonishing that Viriathus was discovered in the 19th century by the patriots of Portugal and Spain as a kind of early national hero fighting foreign oppressors like Napoleon in their present days. But surprising is at least the fact that Madrazo depicted the barbarian chieftain and his followers as Greek or Romans. The whole painting resembles a lot the “Oath of the Horatii” (1784) by David. The explanation is that Madrazo was a pupil of David in Paris. And as the Lusitanians are looking like their Roman enemies, the Spanish patriot painted like his French adversaries.

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