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Publius Decius Mus Series: Publius Decius Mus explains his dream to his soldiers
Author: Jan Raes II (master weaver) and Peter Paul Rubens (cartoonist)
Origin: Brussels, Flanders
Dating: 1618-1643
Material: Wool & Silk
Dimensions (cm): 412 x 340
Inv. no.: PD0403

The heroic death of the Roman Consul Publius Decius Mus is an ‘exemplum virtutis’, an example of a particularly virtuous act. It is cited on several occasions in the Classic Literature, but Rubens was the first Artist to translate into painting the Titus Livius’ (the Historian Livy) narration of the war between the Romans and the Latins in the 340 BC. (‘Ab urbe condita’, Book 7th, chapters 6, 9 and 10).

The inhabitants of the Latiums’ Plain – an area in central-western Italy in the Alban Hills – revolted against the dominance of Rome and challenged the Romans to a battle. The Latin had a superior army in number. The Commanders of the Roman army – Consuls Decius Mus and Titus Manlius – camped out in Capua and both had the same dream: the army whose Commander dies in battle will leave the field victorious.

In this sequence of paintings, Rubens restricts his narrative to the hero, Publius Decius Mus.

In the first tapestry, Decius Mus describes his dream to the army. Titus Manlius appears only in the last painting. The artist shows Decius Mus on top of a pedestal in an imperial pose. The standard-bearers of the different army units gather around in front of him in their diverse war uniforms.

Rubens followed a pictorial formula that was very common in antiquity, where the Commander speaks to his subordinates from a higher position. Depictions such as this may be found in Triumphal Monuments in Rome, such as the Arch of Constantine and the Trajans’ Column. Rubens used relevant scenes from the latter as a direct model. He approved of the creative reutilisation of older images. However, in his essay ‘De Imitatio Statuarum’, he points out that a good understanding of the model was necessary. The transfer made by Rubens, moving the relief of the scene to the middle of the painting, maintains the immobile character, but the symmetric arrangement of the ancient models’ figures is subject to an animated variation, involving a broad variety of movements. The open style of painting gives us an additional element of dynamism.