Roman Ladies Plead With the Coriolan Family

Roman Ladies Plead With the Coriolan Family - Château de Fontainebleau © RMN Grand Palais

Louis Gauffier (1762-1801)
Oil on Canvas
H. 81.4 cm;L. 113.8 cm
Fontainebleau, Musée National du Château, INV 4694
The Emperor’s Room, Petits Appartements

In The Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans Plutarch tells the story of Coriolanus, a glorious Roman general frustrated at being dismissed from the Consulate by the party of the Plebeians and who took up arms against Rome with the help of the Volscians. This take on the subject by the painter Louis Gauffier breaks new ground in the choice of an episode rarely seen: Roman citizens led by Valerie, sister of Consul Publicola, begged Coriolanus' mother Veturia and wife Volumnia, to intervene so that he would stop.

Remaining faithful to the ‘archaeological detail’ – an essential element in neoclassical painting as seen at the Exhibition of 1785 by David’s The Oath of the Horatii– the story of Coriolanus takes place in a Roman house featuring powerful Doric fluted columns. Laurel wreaths, Praetorian helmet, purple chlamys and togas in the alcove evoke the glory of the absent hero. The painter captures the moment when sitting in the foreground Volumnia is won over Valerie’s plea and her outstretched hand occupies the centre of the painting. Volumnia's face is bathed in light as she turns away from the table of weapons and rests her kindly gaze on the imploring women.
This painting is characteristic of neoclassical painting’s dignified and severe style inspired by ancient statues. It also suited tastes of Joachim Murat and his wife Caroline, sister of Napoleon Ist. The painting came into the Emperor's collection in 1808.

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