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Germanicus, the adopted son of the Roman Emperor, Tiberius, was the father of Caligula, and the grandfather of Nero. He died at Antioch, victim of either poison or magic. His devoted widow, Agrippina, brought his ashes back to Rome in an urn.

This story had long been popular with history painters as an ‘exemplum virtutis’ (virtuous example) of a dutiful wife. Turner’s verses for this painting show that he saw the tragic episode as heralding the decline of Imperial Rome. He reconstructs the city in elaborate detail, though in fact Agrippina had landed at Brundisium (Brindisi) rather than Rome.

September 2004