Henry Gibbs
Aeneas and his Family Fleeing Burning Troy 1654

Artwork details

Henry Gibbs 1631–1713
Aeneas and his Family Fleeing Burning Troy
Date 1654
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 1550 x 1598 mm
frame: 1740 x 1791 x 70 mm
Acquisition Purchased 1994
Not on display


The acquisition of this work by Tate marked the discovery of a previously unrecorded English artist. The painting is signed 'H[e]nry Gibbs fecit 1654' on the base of the centre column. The signature ties up with that found on various documents signed by a gentleman painter who was at various times alderman and mayor of the city of Canterbury in Kent. No other signed works by him survive, but a large painted copy of an engraving after Sir Peter Paul Rubens's The Judgement of Solomon had traditionally been connected with his name (Royal Museum and Art Gallery, Canterbury).

British narrative paintings from the early to mid seventeenth century are rare, although documentary references suggest that the subject of this picture may have been a popular one, during the Civil War in Britain which resulted in exile for many. The classical theme is taken from Virgil's Aeneid (II, 671-729): as Troy is sacked, the hero, Aeneas, flees the burning city with his young son Ascanius at his side. Aeneas carries on his shoulders his father Anchises, who clutches the family's household gods. Aeneas's wife Creusa, who in Virgil's text merely falls behind and is lost, is here shown being captured by a Greek soldier. This last detail is rare, if not unique, in representations of this scene.

The individual figures seem to have been loosely based on prototypes from at least two Netherlandish prints that could have been available to Gibbs at the time. As nothing is known of Gibbs's movements during the 1650s, it is possible that he may have executed the painting while abroad. Its theme of exile might have had some special and personal significance either for the artist, or for an unknown patron - or for both. The unusual, almost square, shape of this work suggests that it could have had a decorative function, made perhaps to be placed over a chimneypiece, or possibly as a design for a tapestry.

Henry Gibbs was baptised in London on 20 March 1631, and was married in Canterbury in 1661. During the 1680s he served as alderman in that city, becoming mayor in 1688, the year of the 'revolution' that placed William and Mary on the British throne, and again in 1706. He was buried there in 1713.

Further reading:

Karen Hearn, 'An English gentleman painter, Henry Gibbs', Burlington Magazine, vol. 140, February 1998, pp.99-101, reproduced fig.31 in colour

Karen Hearn
December 2000