Scipio Africanus Freeing Massiva

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Illustration

by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
published on 16 June 2014

As described by the Roman historian Livy (1st century BC), the youthful Massiva was the nephew of a prince of Numidia in present-day Algeria who had supported Scipio Africanus (a Roman general so known because of his conquests in North Africa) and the Romans in battle. The young Massiva was captured by the Romans in 209 BC and brought before Scipio. When Scipio learned the youth's identity, he sent him back to his uncle laden with gifts. Tiepolo, the greatest Italian history painter of the 18th century, combines dramatic gestures, grand scale, and classical architecture to tell his story of generosity and statesmanship. Details such as the banner with the initials of the Roman state situate the story in Roman history. Under the artistic conventions of the time, North Africans of high status, including Numidians, were generally depicted with European features. The black youth chatting with the soldiers on the left is probably Scipio's servant.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770). Oil on canvas, painted between 1719 and 1721 in Venice. Walters Art Museum.

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