Brutus Condemning His Sons to Death

Lucius Junius Brutus orchestrated a revolt to overthrow the last king of Rome and establish the Roman Republic in 509 BCE. Never again, Brutus decreed, would one man rule over the Roman people. However, in an act of defiance the brothers of Brutus’s wife Vitellia, and Brutus’s sons, Titus Junius and Tiberius Junius, secretly plotted to restore the monarchy. Their machinations were discovered and the consuls sentenced the traitors to death. Brutus was ordered to witness his sons’ executions; his stoic acceptance of their gruesome murder and his devotion to the Republic over his family became the powerful, if disturbing, moral of this bloody tale. This passage from Roman history was a preferred subject for proto-Revolutionary artists such as Guillaume Lethière and his rival Jacques-Louis David.

Lethière painted this work as a student at the Académie de France in Rome. It was later exhibited in Paris during the Salon of 1795 and again in the Salon of 1801. In both exhibitions, the painting was criticized for the grotesque nature of the severed head at left, which would have struck a chord in the collective imagination of the French public, who was well exposed to such gruesome acts as part of the French Revolution and its bloody guillotine.

Guillaume Lethière

French, 1760 - 1832

Brutus Condemning His Sons to Death

1788

Oil on canvas

Stretcher: 23 3/8 × 39 in. (59.4 × 99.1 cm)


Acquired by the Clark, 2018

2018.1.1


ON VIEW