Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus

Carle (Antoine Charles Horace) Vernet (French, Bordeaux 1758–1836 Paris)
Oil on canvas
51 1/8 x 172 1/2 in. (129.9 x 438.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Darius O. Mills, 1906
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 613
The procession celebrates the victory of the Roman general, Aemilius Paulus, over King Perseus of Macedonia in 168 B.C. Aemilius Paulus rides in triumph on the gold chariot to the right followed by prisoners, among whom is Perseus with his family. The temple of Jupiter Capitolinus with its hundred steps dominates the background.

The picture was begun in 1787 and presented as Vernet's reception piece to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1789. It was exhibited at the Salons of 1789 and 1791.

Carle Vernet was the son of the landscape and marine painter Joseph Vernet (1714–1789) and the father of Emile-Jean-Horace Vernet (1789–1863), who specialized in battle scenes and oriental subjects. Having studied with Nicolas Bernard Lépicié (1735–1784), Carle Vernet was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1782 and in 1789, when he presented the work catalogued below, was approved for admission to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture and began to show at the biannual Salons. He reemerged in the later 1790s as a successful engraver and lithographer, while as a painter he focused on picturesque genre and hunting scenes. Vernet was awarded the Légion d’honneur in 1808; he was elected to the Institut de France in 1815 and he exhibited for the last time at the Salon of 1824.

Although his stay in Italy was relatively brief, Carle Vernet’s style was influenced by what he saw of both ancient and modern Rome. In 1787, working under his father’s direction, he began to prepare his submission to the Académie, The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus, to which he devoted two years, considering every detail and enlarging the picture to its present size in the process. The huge canvas was a success not only with the academicians but also with the critics, almost all of whom celebrated his achievement in their reviews of the Salon of 1789, and Vernet contemplated a companion piece which would represent the death of Patroclus. Meanwhile he exhibited Aemilius Paulus again in the Salon of 1791. At the Salons of 1793 and 1795 he showed the second painting on a classical subject, which in the end was somewhat smaller and with different proportions, titling it The Chariot Races Ordered by Achilles for the Funeral of Patroclus. This seems to be the work bought in 1858 from Horace Vernet for the Museo Nacional de San Carlos in Mexico City.

At the end of his military service, the Roman patrician Lucius Aemilius Paulus (ca. 229–160 B.C.) was successively elected to various offices including consul in 182 B.C. Having campaigned in Spain and Liguria, he was again elected consul in 168 B.C. and sent to Greece, where in fifteen days he defeated Perseus of Macedonia at Pydna, near Mount Olympus. Following the orders of the senate he then completed a campaign of looting and slaughter in Epirus on the way home, bringing great wealth back with him to Rome. The triumph with which Aemilius Paulus was honored reportedly lasted three days and is pictured here. He rides upon a gold chariot and is closely followed by the defeated Perseus, his wife, and two of their children.

[Katharine Baetjer 2012]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): Carle Vernet 1789
Jean-Joseph de Laborde, Paris (until d. 1794; confiscated by revolutionary forces); his widow, Nettine de Laborde (from 1797; restituted by the state); Émile-Jean-Horace Vernet, Paris (by 1822); Odiot père, Paris (by 1845–at least 1847; his sale, Paillet, Paris, March 3–6, 1845, no. 66; and sale, Ridel, Paris, Feb. 20, 1847, no. 61); Baron François Delessert, Paris (until 1869; sale, Pillet, Paris, March 18, 1869, no. 206, for Fr 8100); Heber R. Bishop, New York (by 1891–1902; sale, American Art Association, New York, January 17–27, 1906, no. 86, for $4,200 to Mills); Darius Ogden Mills, New York (1906)
Paris. Salon. 1789, suppl. no. 342 (as "Triomphe de Paul Emile," 14 pieds de long sur 4 pieds 1/2 de haut).

Paris. Salon. September 8–?, 1791, no. 217 (as "Paul Emile triomphant de Pérsée, dernier Roi de Macédoine, qui suit avec sa famille le char du Vainqueur").

Philadelphia. University Museum. "The Ruins of Rome," December 15, 1960–February 15, 1961, no. 133.

Detroit Institute of Arts. "The Ruins of Rome," March 26–May 7, 1961, no. 133.

Washington. National Gallery of Art. "The Eye of Thomas Jefferson," June 5–September 6, 1976, not in catalogue.

New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "The Winds of Revolution," November 14–December 28, 1989, no. 32.

Observations critiques sur les tableaux du Sallon de l'année 1789. Paris, 1789, pp. 26–27 [Collection Deloynes, vol. 16, no. 410, pp. 90–91; McWilliam 1991, no. 0462], comments that this picture merits the crowds that it attracts due to the richness of its composition, the beauty of its background, and the large number of figures; notes that the subject can be compared with the entry of Alexander into Babylon; praises Vernet's thorough study of Roman costumes and ceremonies; finds the palette too yellow and purple.

Remarques sur les ouvrages exposés au Salon. 1789, p. 13 [Collection Deloynes, vol. 16, no. 413, p. 153; McWilliam 1991, no. 0466], asserts that this picture does more than promise great talent.

Les élèves au Salon: Ou l'Amphigouri. Paris, 1789, p. 30 [Collection Deloynes, vol. 16, no. 416, p. 210; McWilliam 1991, no. 0455], describes at least 200 figures, each one with a different expression, attitude, or type of head; finds that the details of the costumes are rendered with surprising truth.

[Le frondeur au Salon de l'année 1789]. [1789] [Collection Deloynes, vol. 16, no. 419, p. 266; McWilliam 1991, no. 0457], describes its pure drawing and life-like color.

[Observations sur le Salon tirées du journal de Paris]. [1789] [Collection Deloynes, vol. 16, no. 421, p. 319; McWilliam 1991, no. 0458], admires the richness of its composition, its execution, and great facility overall.

[Observations sur les peintures et sculptures exposées au Salon du Louvre tirées de l'Année littéraire no. 35 [ou plutot 40]]. [1789] [Collection Deloynes, vol. 16, no. 422, p. 358; McWilliam 1991, no. 0454], praises the young artist's lively imagination and admires the expressions and attitudes of the many figures.

[Exposition des peintures, sculptures et gravures de MM. de l'Académie royale au Salon du Louvre, 1789, Mercure de France]. [Collection Deloynes, vol. 16, no. 423, p. 392; McWilliam 1991, no. 0460], praises the composition but calls the rendering of Roman antiquity slightly anachronistic.

[Exposition des tableaux au Salon du Louvre, lettre des graveurs de Paris a mr. l'abbé de Fontenai, auteur du Journal général de France (September 9, 1789)]. [Collection Deloynes, vol. 16, no. 426, p. 399; McWilliam 1991, no. 0459], comments that it seems to emerge from the school of David.

M. D . . . [Philippe Chéry]. Explication et critique impartiale de toutes les peintures, sculptures, gravures, dessins, &c., exposés au Louvre d'après le décret de l'Assemblée nationale, au mois de septembre 1791, l'an III de la Liberté. Paris, 1791, pp. 30–31, no. 217 [Collection Deloynes, vol. 17, no. 436; McWilliam 1991, no. 0494], draws attention to the imposing composition and the great variety of figures, but objects to the architectural anachronisms, pointing out that the Coliseum, the Arch of Constantine, and the Column of Trajan were built later; remarks that Vernet, père apparently worked on the background.

La béquille de Voltaire au Salon, première promenade . . . au Louvre, en septembre 1791. Paris, 1791, pp. 49–50 [CollectionDeloynes, vol. 17, no. 438; McWilliam 1991, no. 0473], in the form of a mock dialogue, as richly composed and superbly executed, although the author comments that Vernet devoted three years to perfecting it.

Joachim Le Breton. Rapport sur les beaux-arts. n.p., 1808, pp. 51, 106 [reprinted (including edits made between 1810 and 1815) in "Rapports à l'Empereur sur le progrès des sciences, des lettres et des arts depuis 1789," vol. 5, "Beaux-arts," Paris, 1989, pp. 101, 147].

Quatremère de Quincy. Suite du recueil de notices historiques: lues dans les séances publiques de l'Académie royale des beaux--arts à l'Institut. Paris, 1837, pp. 185, 187, notes that Vernet rebuilt his studio to accomodate the painting and that he planned to paint the Funeral of Patrocles as a pendant.

Charles Blanc. Histoire des peintres français au dix-neuvième siècle. Paris, 1845, pp. 279–80.

Eugène Asse. Nouvelle biographie générale depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu'à nos jours. Ed. Dr. Hoefer. Vol. 45, Paris, 1866, col. 7.

Armand Dayot. Les Vernet: Joseph–Carle–Horace. Paris, 1898, p. 60.

Charles Blanc. Une famille d'artistes. Les trois Vernet: Joseph–Carle–Horace. Paris, 1928, pp. 56, 59, as representing a transitional moment in French art; sees Vernet's simple, natural, and noble composition in opposition to the example of David.

Hermann Voss in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 34, Leipzig, 1940, p. 283, as Vernet's last homage to classical taste.

Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 183–84, ill., observes that the artist was influenced by David and, for the landscape, by Joseph Vernet, his father; comments on the ardor and freedom of the horses, offering a sharp contrast to the static figures; states that a smaller picture of the Triumph of Aemilius was sold in 1812 with the Villers collection in Paris.

Ferdinand Boyer. "Jean-Joseph de Laborde protecteur de F.-X. Fabre et sa collection confisquée en 1794." Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français, année 1954, (1955), pp. 222, 225–26, publishes this painting in an inventory of works confiscated from Jean-Joseph de Laborde, banker to the court of Louis XVI, sentenced to death and guillotined on 29 germinal an II (April 18, 1794); notes that it was restituted to his widow in 1797.

Michel N. Benisovich. "Carle Vernet as a Historical Painter." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 16 (February 1958), pp. 184–86, ill., publishes the artist's "Funeral of Patroclus," dated 1793 (Academy of San Carlos, Mexico City).

Ferdinand Boyer. "Les collections et les ventes de Jean-Joseph de Laborde." Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français (1961), p. 142.

Henry Bardon. "Les peintures a sujets antiques au XVIIIe siècle d'après les livrets de Salons." Gazette des beaux-arts 61 (April 1963), p. 232, as among paintings taking their subject from Livy; lists drawings by Monsiau of the same subject in the Salons of 1787 and 1789.

Isabelle Julia in French Painting, 1774–1830: The Age of Revolution. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris. Detroit, 1974, p. 649 [French ed., "De David à Delacroix: La Peinture française de 1774 à 1830, " Paris, p. 642].

Seymour Howard. Sacrifice of the Hero: The Roman Years. A Classical Frieze by Jacques Louis David. Sacramento, 1975, pp. 79, 118 n. 174, fig. 139, mentions it in connection with a lost grisaille by David of the same subject that was also a pendant to a Funeral of Patroclus.

Thomas A. Cassilly. Letter to Katharine Baetjer. June 7, 1980, notes that this picture appears in the background of Horace Vernet's 1822 painting of his studio.

John Pope-Hennessy. "Roger Fry and The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Oxford, China, and Italy: Writings in Honour of Sir Harold Acton on his Eightieth Birthday. Ed. Edward Chaney and Neil Ritchie. London, 1984, p. 234.

Jean-François Heim, Claire Béraud, and Philippe Heim. Les salons de peinture de la Révolution française, 1789–1799. Paris, 1989, pp. 33, 35, 373–74, ill.

Colin B. Bailey in 1789: French Art during the Revolution. Ed. Alan Wintermute. Exh. cat., Colnaghi. New York, 1989, pp. 22–23, ill.

Dorathea K. Beard in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 32, New York, 1996, p. 334.

Yuriko Jackall in America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2017, p. 292.

Philippe Bordes in America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2017, pp. 105–6, fig. 4 (color).

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