Benjamin Robert HAYDON<br/>
<em>Marcus Curtius</em> (c. 1842-1843) <!-- (recto) --><br />

oil on canvas on composition board<br />
76.5 x 63.5 cm<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Purchased, 1897<br />
40-2<br />


Marcus Curtius

Benjamin Robert HAYDON

British art
British art

Benjamin Robert HAYDON
Marcus Curtius (c. 1842-1843)

oil on canvas on composition board
76.5 × 63.5 cm
formerly inscribed on reverse: B. R. Haydon 1843
Accession Number
International Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1897
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
Gallery location
19th Century European Paintings Gallery
Level 2, NGV International
About this work

In Livy’s History of Rome, written around 29 BC, he recorded the legend of a chasm opening in the Forum, which the prophets said could not close until Rome sacrificed its greatest treasure. Duly, Marcus Curtius, a young soldier, said that the valor of the Roman people was of the greatest worth, he then mounted his horse, and rode into the gulf to his death. The gaping hole was then able to be filled, ending the potential disaster. It is an epic tale of stoicism in the face of inevitable doom, and an individual’s ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.

Through his teaching and artistic practice, Benjamin Robert Haydon advocated that the standard of British art, therefore the spirit of the nation, could be elevated by artists portraying morally uplifting subjects based on Classical literature. The story of Marcus Curtius, with its theme of nobility and sacrifice, suited Haydon’s ideal of appropriate subject matter for “high art”. In 1842, he began a huge painting of Marcus Curtius, over three meters in height, which he exhibited at the British Institution in 1843. The painting met with some critical success, and Haydon went on to make numerous small copies, which he sold to friends and patrons. This is one such version, which was bought by Haydon’s long time patron and supporter Richard Twentyman, who, shortly after purchasing it, emigrated to Australia.

Subjects (general)
Animals History and Legend Human Figures
Subjects (specific)
bravery deaths helmets (protective wear) horse (species) javelins self-sacrifice shields (armour) soldiers
Acquired from the artist by Richard Twentyman (d. 1880), London and 'Barham House' and 'Mittagong', Melbourne (from c. 1846); his collection, until 1880; collection of Robert Wallen (1831–93), Melbourne, before 1893; included in the Wallen estate sale, Gemmell & Tuckett, Melbourne, 15 December 1897; from where purchased, by Bernard Hall, for the NGV, 1897.
English, contemporary with the painting


Further reading