WEST, Benjamin
(b. 1738, Springfield, d. 1820, London)

Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus

1768
Oil on canvas, 164 x 240 cm
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven

The subject of this painting was taken from Roman history. Agrippina the Elder was a distinguished and prominent Roman woman of the first century AD. She was the wife of the general and statesman Germanicus and was granddaughter of Augustus, Rome's first emperor,.

The scene shows the widowed Agrippina returning to Rome carrying the ashes of her assassinated husband, Germanicus. She is accompanied by her two young children, Caligula, the future emperor, and Agrippina the Younger, who was to be the mother of the Emperor Nero. Agrippina has placed herself and her children in certain danger by returning to confront the Emperor Tiberius, who was widely believed to have instigated Germanicus's murder. Germanicus's popularity as a general, as well as his wife's legendary virtue, draws large crowds of sympathizers to greet her when she disembarks at Brundisium.

Painted for the Archbishop of York, this canvas led to King George III's lifelong patronage of West, despite the Pennsylvania-born artist's frank American patriotism.