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Past Exhibition

Ancient Rome

oil painting depicting ancient Rome harbor and bridge at center

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851)
Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus. The Triumphal Bridge and Palace of the Caesars Restored, exhibited 1839
Oil on canvas
36 x 48 in. (91.4 x 121.9 cm)
Tate; Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
©Tate, London 2016

In the mid-ground on the left side of this image, tiny figures bow to greet Agrippina the Elder, virtuous widow of the assassinated general Germanicus. Although the citizens of Rome hailed her return, it marked the beginning of a dark period, during which the empire was ruled by tyrants: Agrippina’s son, Caligula, and grandson, Nero. Turner alludes to this tragic undercurrent, and to Rome’s eventual decline, with the presence of the moon at daytime. It hovers above the scene, even as warm sunlight spreads over the city and glimmers across the surface of the river.