Gerard Hoet Le Vieux – History of Virginia
The painting represents an important episode in republican Roman history linked to the figure of a girl: Virginia, whose tragic story is narrated by Tito Livio (Tito Livio, AB Urbe condita III, 44 and SS.).
Virginia is a beautiful young woman from a plebeian family, already engaged to the tribune of the plebs Lucio Icilio. The decemvir Appio Claudio during the second decemvirate fell in love with her. At first he tried with money and flattery to bribe the young woman, but she resisted; then taking advantage of the absence of her father, Lucio Virginio, engaged in the campaign against the Equi on Mount Algido, he convinced one of his clients, Marco Claudio, to claim that Virginia was his slave.
Finding the girl in the forum, Marco tried to kidnap her, claiming in front of the crowd that she was his slave, but the people who knew her father by reputation did not believe him and saved the young woman. Then Marco took the case to court presided over by his principal Appio Claudio.
The girl’s defenders testified to Virginia’s Roman paternity and asked that any decision be suspended until her father’s return. At first Appius Claudius agreed, but established that the girl would follow Marco Claudius until a final sentence; then fearing the reaction of the crowd in turmoil for the injustice of the decision and for the intervention of her fiancé Icilio, ready to come to the clash with I Littori and uncle Publio Numitorio, he allowed the girl to return home, updating the hearing on next day when he would put the final sentence.
Icilius’s brother and Numitorio’s son were invited to warn Virginia’s father to return to Rome within the next day. The two were so fast that Virginio obtained permission from his commander to return to Rome to defend his daughter before the commander himself was reached by the order of Appio Claudio to keep him in the field.
The next day, while the crowd gathered to watch the trial and her father wandered around soliciting his help, the young woman arrived in the forum, accompanied by the Roman matrons who, as Tito Livio recalls, silently wept over the girl’s sad fate.
The trial began with the declaration of the father, but Appius Claudius interrupted it, confirming the sentence of the previous day and granting temporary slavery to Marco. Appius Claudius made his purpose so evident that he induced Virginio to threaten an action of force. The girl’s father In fact, he remembered having educated them honestly to make her an honored bride and not a raped woman. From the words of his father originated a revolt of the Roman people that the Lictors suffocated. At that point, Virginia’s father hid in the temple of Venus and killed his daughter saying: “so my daughter I claim your freedom in the only way available to me”. The father then fled the Forum and poor Virginia’s body was shown to bystanders. A violent uprising led by the unfortunate’s father then succeeded in driving the evil decemvirs out of Rome.
The ordinary magistracies were restored and the tribunes of the plebs re-established. Appio Claudio at that point was accused by Virginia’s father and put in prison where he committed suicide.
The painting depicts two episodes of history that take place in the forum, in front of the statue of a divinity of a divinity according to Roman usage. In the foreground Virginia defends herself from the infamous advances of Appio Claudio and in the second floor Virginia herself is about to be kidnapped, but the crowd rises and frees her.
The theme achieved considerable artistic success over time and was treated by artists of the highest level from Botticelli to De mura and many French neoclassicals.The canvas is rich in precious details: still lifes, rich and lively colors that give the whole a very noble tone. elegant.
The fascinating painting is the work of a precious Dutch painter Gérard Houet the Elder (Zaltbommel 22 August 1648 – The Hague 2 December 1733) who was also a draftsman and writer. Houet was the son of a stained glass decorator, his first teacher and initially assisted his father in his profession. He then became a pupil of Warnard van Raysen (1625-1664) for only one year, however, because due to the death of his father he was forced to leave his studies until 1672 and to continue his father’s profession, the only sustenance for the family. The painter moved to the Hague in 1672 where he worked for many noble palaces; later he was in Amsterdam and Paris. After about a year he returned to Holland and settled in Utrecht at the invitation of M.van Zuylen, one of the main patrons of the period, for whom he performed some of his best works. In this city in 1697 he founded a drawing academy together with Hendrick Schoock, of which he was director. In 1712 he published a book on drawing accompanied by 103 prints by Pieter Bodart. From 1714 until his death he lived in Aia.
Hoet mainly produced small-format works of mythological or classical religious subjects in general, with landscapes in the style of Cornelis van Poelenburgh as a background. He also made large paintings, often with many figures, in a classic and elegant style, rich in echoes of the French painting of Poussin and his followers and of the Italian Baroque painting of a classical matrix. In this canvas Gerard Hoet skillfully puts in place a refined and skillful game of chiaroscuro, which is one of its salient features. The focal point of the scene is the figure of Virginia with the Roman soldiers around and in the foreground, a refined glimpse of still life with refreshments and carafes painted with truly Flemish detail. The scene is located within a classic architecture strongly marked by chiaroscuro and is illuminated by the warm light of the sunset. The canvas presents many themes and details that are also found in other works of his, for example in the banquet of Cleopatra in the Getty Museum where we find still lifes with precious chiseled silverware very similar.
The pictorial subject of this canvas is sophisticated and rare as often in Hoet, with the rich details and furnishings that evoke a late Baroque interior of French taste and style that the painter may have seen in Paris during his stay around 1670. The architecture is then painted with a truly remarkable wealth of detail.
Hoet’s works had immediate success among the nobility and the upper middle class of his time, and Hoet also produced multiple versions of the same work. In this case, however, there are no other versions and the picture of the history of Virginia Romana must therefore be considered today as a precious Unicum.
The storage conditions are excellent
Not antique frame
72cm x 62cm (with frame)
Gerard Hoet Le Vieux (1643 – 1733)