(b. 1774, Paris, d. 1833, Roma)
The Return of Marcus Sextus1799
Oil on canvas, 217 x 243 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris
In this painting Guérin gave a theatrical depiction of a tragical historical (although invented) subject. Sextus, returned from exile, is seated in a stoical pose beside the deathbed of his wife. His fixed gaze reflects his inner questioning of the meaning of life. The scene is of heathen times, but it makes concealed use of the old Christian iconography. The cruciform in which the grieving man and the dead woman are so strikingly composed underlays the painting with an additional metaphorical significance, and the position of the daughter, who is clinging to her father's knee in pain, recalls the old Mary Magdalen motif in Christian art.