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American Paintings and Sculpture
Artist: Benjamin West, American, active Great Britain, 1738–1820

Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus

1768

Oil on canvas

64 1/2 × 94 1/2 in. (163.8 × 240 cm)
Gift of Louis M. Rabinowitz
1947.16

This painting exemplifies a reawakened interest in the noble values of classical antiquity—stoicism, self-sacrifice, generosity, patriotism—that influenced artists and writers as well as politicians in the second half of the eighteenth century. It brought the Pennsylvania-born Benjamin West, who was working in London, immediate praise and the patronage of King George III. West here depicts a dramatic episode from Roman history. Agrippina, widow of the assassinated and much-admired general Germanicus, is seen arriving with the ashes of her slain husband. Crowds of mourning citizens greet her as she starts on her way to confront the Emperor Tiberius, widely believed to have arranged for Germanicus’s murder. To further his reference to antiquity, West modeled the central group on the Ara Pacis, the recently excavated Roman sacrificial altar, and painted the figures in cool whites, as if they too were carved in marble. Contemporary viewers would have recognized this classical allusion.

Geography: 
Made in Great Britain, England
Status: 
On view
Culture: 
American
Period: 
18th century
Classification: 
Paintings
Provenance: 

Dr. Robert Drummond, Archbishop of York, from 1768; Drummond family; E. and A. Silberman Galleries, New York, about 1947; Louis M. Rabinowitz, New York, about 1947; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

Bibliography: 

Theodore E. Stebbins Jr. and Galina Gorokhoff, A Checklist of American Paintings at Yale University (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1982), 166, no. 1739, ill.

Angela Miller et al., American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2008), 125, fig. 4.33.

Douglas Fordham, British Art and the Seven Years’ War: Allegiance and Autonomy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), 206, fig. 72.

Art for Yale: Collecting for a New Century, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2007), 390, fig. 1.

Susan B. Matheson, Art for Yale: A History of the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2001), 132–33, fig. 131.

Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, Nineteenth-Century European Art, ed. Sarah Touborg (Boston: Laurence King Publishing Ltd., 2012), 55.

Michelle Facos, An Introduction to Nineteenth-Century Art (New York: Routledge, 2011), 29, fig. 2.2.

Amy Galpin et al., Behold, America!, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 2012), 118, fig. fig. 53.

Gary Tinterow et al., American Adversaries West and Copley in a Transatlantic World, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013), vii, fig. 1.

Charles Seymour, “Louis Mayer Rabinowitz,” Bulletin of the Associates in Fine Arts at Yale University 23 (September 1957): 14, fig. 8.

John Galt, The Life and Works of Benjamin West, Esq., President of the Royal Academy of London, Prior to His Arrival in England: Compiled from Material Furnished by Himself… Part II (London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1820), 11-13, 21-26.

William Carey, “Memoirs of Benjamin West, Esq. Late President of the Royal Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, in London,” New Monthly Magazine 13 (1820): 690.

Jean Locquin, La Peinture d’histoire en France de 1747 a 1785 (Paris: H. Laurens, 1912), 154, 156.

Horace Walpole and Hugh Gatty, “Notes by Horace Walpole, Fourth Earl of Orford, on the Exhibitions of the Society of Artists and the Free Society of Artists, 1760–1791,” Walpole Society 27 (1938–39): 81.

James Thomas Flexner, America’s Old Master’s: First Artists of the New World (New York: Viking Press, 1939), 57-61.

James Thomas Flexner, “The American School in London,” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 7 (1948): 64-67.

James Thomas Flexner, “Benjamin West’s American Neo-Classicism,” New York Historical Society Quarterly 36 (1952): 32-33.

Grose Evans, Benjamin West and the Taste of His Times (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1959), 5.

Allen Staley, “The Landing of Agrippina at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus,” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 61 (1965-66): 10-19.

David Irwin, English Neoclassical Art (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1966), 50, 80.

Robert Rosenblum, Transformations in Late Eighteenth-Century Art (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967), 42-43.

Frederick J Cummings, Allen Staley, and Robert Rosenblum, Romantic Art in Britain: Paintings and Drawings, 1760-1860, exh. cat. (Philadelphia: Falcon Press, 1968), 98-99.

Ruth S. Kraemer, Drawings by Benjamin West and His Son Raphael Lamar West, exh. cat. (New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1975), 5.

Robert C. Alberts, Benjamin West: A Biography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1978), 84-89.

Helmut von Erffa and Allen Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986), 179–80, no. 33.

Alan Shestack, ed., Yale University Art Gallery Selections (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1983).

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.