Alexander Runciman

Agrippina with the Ashes of Germanicus

first printed c.1773

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Alexander Runciman 1736–1785
Etching on paper
Image: 144 × 106 mm
Purchased 1983

Display caption

A large picture of this subject by another Scottish artist, Gavin Hamilton, is also in the Tate's collections; it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1772, the probable year of this etching. Runciman himself produced an oil painting on the theme for the R.A. in 1780. The subject was therefore a standard one for the neo-classical period, and Runciman's treatment of it here sums up the Grecian inspiration of the time.
Germanicus Julius Caesar, soldier and poet, had gained his name in campaigns fought against the Germans; he was assassinated at Antioch, Asia Minor, in 19 AD. His widow Agrippina brought his ashes home to Italy, landing in the South at Brundisium (Brindisi).

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T03606 AGRIPPINA WITH THE ASHES OF GERMANICUS ? first printed c. 1773

Etching 5 5/8 × 4 3/16 (144 × 106) on hand-made wove paper 6 3/8 × 4 7/8 (161 × 123)
Etched inscription ‘AR [?inv]’ (initials in monogram) below subject and within plate lower left, and ‘[G]ERMANICUS’ round urn of ashes
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Prov: As for T03604
Lit: As for T03604

Runciman's choice of this subject (which derives from Tacitus) may well have been influenced by Gavin Hamilton and by the latter's admiration for Poussin which he encouraged Runciman to share. Poussin had painted ‘The Death of Germanicus’ (Anthony Blunt, The Paintings of Nicolas Poussin: A Critical Catalogue, 1969, pp.112–13, no.156). Hamilton's painting ‘Agrippina Landing at Brindisium with the Ashes of Germanicus’ was exhibited at the RA in 1772, and is now in the Tate's collection (T03365, q.v. in this catalogue, with a summary of Agrippina's story); Runciman's pen and ink drawing of ‘Agrippina's Landing at Brindisium with the Ashes of Germanicus’ was exhibited at the RA in 1781 (374) and is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Scotland.

T03606 does not appear to be related to Runciman's decorative schemes at Penicuik, except perhaps indirectly. As well as painting the ceiling of the Great Room at Penicuik, Runciman was commissioned to paint six large panels for the cupolas surmounting Penicuik's two staircases, and chose to paint scenes from the life of St Margaret of Scotland there. He seems to have been interested in other subjects depicting women in stress behaving nobly.

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

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