Gavin Hamilton

Agrippina Landing at Brindisium with the Ashes of Germanicus


Not on display

Gavin Hamilton 1723–1798
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1825 × 2560 mm
Purchased 1982

Display caption

This subject, from Tacitus's history of Imperial Rome, was popular with neo-classical history painters. Germanicus Julius Caesar was the nephew and adopted son of the Emperor Tiberius and, by his wife Agrippina, the father of Caligula and the grandfather of Nero. He died at Antioch, supposedly by poison or magic. His widow brought his ashes back to Rome in an urn, landing at Brundisium (Brindisi).

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry


Oil on canvas, painted area approx. 71 3/4 × 100 3/4 (1825 × 2560), stretcher 71 3/4 × 101 1/4 (1825 × 2575)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: Commissioned by John, 1st Earl Spencer 1765; by descent to George, 8th Earl Spencer, sold 1981 to P. & D. Colnaghi Ltd, from whom purchased by the Tate Gallery
Exh: RA 1772 (109); Bicentenary Exhibition, RA December 1968–March 1969 (682); Zwei Jahrhunderte Englische Malerei, British Council, Haus der Kunst, Munich, November 1979–January 1980 (128, repr.)
Lit: Algernon Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts, III, 1905, p.365; Ellis K. Waterhouse, ‘The British Contribution to the Neo-Classical Style in Painting’, Proceedings of the British Academy, XL, 1954, pp.72–3, pl.11; David Irwin, ‘Gavin Hamilton: Archaeologist, Painter, and Dealer’, Art Bulletin, XLIV, 1962, p.96, fig.12; David Irwin, English Neoclassical Art, 1966, p.50, pl.39; David and Francina Irwin, Scottish Painters at Home and Abroad 1700–1900, 1975, p.104; Kenneth Garlick, ‘A Catalogue of Pictures at Althorp’, Walpole Society, XLV, 1976, p.35, no.261; Helmut von Erffa and Allen Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West, 1986, pp.44–6, repr.

Germanicus Julius Caesar was born on 24 May 15 BC and adopted by his uncle, later the Emperor, Tiberius in AD 4; this placed him in the direct line of succession. He served as Consul, Proconsul and Commander in Chief in the Gallic and German provinces until he was recalled by Tiberius in AD 17 and sent to take up a new command in the eastern provinces. In AD 19 he fell mysteriously ill and died at Antioch on 10 October, convinced that he had been poisoned by Gnaeus Piso who had been appointed Governor of Syria by Tiberius to watch Germanicus's activities. His death caused grief and suspicion in Rome and Agrippina's return with his ashes in an urn, and her progress by foot with her children from Brindisi where she landed to Rome, was upheld as an example of wifely devotion. Ten years later she was banished by Tiberius and died from starvation in 33 AD.

No. T03365 is one of a series of large canvases of classical subjects painted by Gavin Hamilton in Rome from the early 1760s onwards. It was commissioned in 1765 by the first Earl Spencer, for whom Hamilton was acting in the purchase of works by Italian seventeenth-century painters including Guercino. The painting was completed and in England in time to be exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1772, when Horace Walpole wrote in his catalogue, ‘Dull and livid, like all his works’. The picture is a typical example of Hamilton's neoclassicism, based on the classical tradition as transmitted by Raphael, Poussin and the seventeenth-century Bolognese school.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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