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 was the powerful moral of this bloody tale. This passage from Roman history was a preferred subject not only for Guillaume Lethière, but also his rival Jacques-Louis David.
Lethière was born in the French colony of Guadeloupe to a white colonial official and a woman of color who had previously been enslaved. He would become one of the first artists of African descent to be widely recognized throughout Europe. 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.
|Medium||Oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||Stretcher: 23 3/8 × 39 in. (59.4 × 99.1 cm)|
|Acquisition||Acquired by the Clark, 2018|
Guillaume Lethière, Brutus Condemning His Sons to Death, 1788, Oil on canvas. Acquired by the Clark, 2018. The Clark Art Institute, 2018.1.1.