MANTEGNA, Andrea
(b. 1431, Isolate di Cartura, d. 1506, Mantova)

Introduction of the Cult of Cybele to Rome (detail)

1505-06
Tempera on canvas
National Gallery, London

At the end of the second Punic War, a Sybilline oracle predicted that a Roman victory would be hastened if they brought the foreign goddess Cybele to Rome. So in 204 BC, the Roman Senate decided that as the most distinguished of all the Romans, the still youthful patrician Publius Cornelius Scipio (235-183 BC) should receive the goddess and give her shelter in his house until a temple had been built.

On the right of the painting a private house is depicted, on the steps of which a musician in oriental dress is standing, playing a pipe and a drum. A band attached to his ruff bears the letters SPQR, the Latin abbreviation for the Roman senate. The trumpet of a second musician is projecting from the entrance to the house, a compositional device indicating that the action is continuing beyond the picture frame.