Valerius blesses Decius

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Valerius blesses Decius
This fourth tapestry is the smallest of the eight in the series. Decius Mus, set on self-sacrifice so that the Romans might conquer the Latin army, presents himself before the High Priest Marcus Valerius. The consul seeks Valerius’s blessing and asks how he must act to please the gods in death. In the lower selvage we see the surname of the weaver, “RAES”, in the right-hand selvage, we see his monogram.

Faithful to Livy’s account

Rubens followed the story as told by Livy (History of Rome VIII, 9) to the letter: “Decius exclaimed in a loud voice to Marcus Valerius: ‘Valerius, we need the help of the gods! Let the Pontifex Maximus dictate to me the words in which I am to devote myself for the legions.’ The Pontifex bade him veil his head in his toga praetexta, and rest his hand, covered with the toga, against his chin, then standing upon a spear to say these words…”. Rubens captures here the moment when Decius invokes the gods with his hand on his chin, covered with a toga and standing on an arrow. However, a group of warriors waiting beside the consul’s horse and weapons, which Rubens painted in the modello (kept in the Bavarian State Picture Collection, Munich) and in the cartoon (kept in the Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna), do not appear in the tapestry.

Almost a painting

The extraordinary colours of oil could not be replicated entirely, although the weavers did remain, for the large part, faithful to the cartoon. The border of geometric motifs, fruit and animals is common to all the tapestries in the series. The presence of the weaver’s name and monogram in the selvages show this particular tapestry to be the work of Jan Raes II.

Series History of the consul Decius Mus

Fourth tapestry in the series

Model P. P. Rubens

Manufacture Jan Raes II, Brussels, c. 1620-1629

Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool

Size 405 x 330 cm

Location Royal Palace of Madrid

Origin Collection of Philip IV

On display Royal Armoury

National Heritage Inv. 10013128


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