: For a biography of Salvator Rosa, see the Catalogue Entry for Self-Portrait
: The legendary founder of Rome, Aeneas, is shown in armor, asleep on the banks of the Tiber, his head resting on a rock, his sword and helmet laid beside him. Bending over him is the personification of the Tiber River, his hair shown as grassy reeds, his head seen against the clouds of a moonlit sky.Literary and Visual Sources
: In Book VIII of Virgil’s Aeneid
(lines 26-65), the Trojan hero Aeneas has landed in Latium, exhausted from the brewing hostilities with the local Rutili and their leader Turnus. “This way and that he turns his anxious mind; / thinks, and rejects the counsel he design’d; / explores himself in vain, in ev’ry part, / and gives no rest to his distracted heart.” Aeneas finally finds nocturnal repose on the banks of the Tiber, when “thro’ the shadows of the poplar wood, / arose the father of the Roman flood; / an azure robe was o’er his body spread / a wreath of shady reeds adorn’d his head.” Tiberinus, the river god himself, tells Aeneas not to fear, for “when thirty rolling years have run their race, / thy son Ascanius, on this empty space, / shall build a royal town, of lasting fame”—a prophecy of the foundation of Rome.
Rosa’s grand picture is closely aligned with Virgil’s text, and uses the rhetorical gesture of Tiberinus’s right arm that points toward Rome to depict the climax of his revelation. The river god’s floating gray drapery and head full of slippery reeds, paired with the lyrical setting of a nocturnal river bank, allude to the Seicento interest in painting as mute poetry. Rosa achieved the mysterious, lunar atmosphere through silvery-hued browns and beiges, punctuated with muted green and azure, which serve to evoke the haze of dreams and the watery world of the river god. As Helen Langdon has observed, Rosa’s Ovidian works imagined a “dark and dangerous” ancient world, and it is clear that his treatment of Virgil’s subject is no different.
Aeneas’s pose was clearly important to Rosa, as the majority of the extant preparatory drawings show Rosa searching for the best angle for the legs and positioning of hands. This exploration, characteristic of Rosa’s creative process, results in a final pose that accentuates the still-armored hero’s collapse under the weight of physical and emotional strain. Caterina Volpi (2014) has noted that Rosa depicted similarly slumped characters in the Drunkenness of Noah
(private collection) and Jacob and the Angel
(Devonshire collection, Chatsworth), though the contorted nature of those bodies is so extreme that they more obviously expose Rosa’s weakness in convincingly portraying human anatomy. Volpi has also suggested that the figure of Aeneas can be traced to the pose of Endymion in Annibale Carracci’s fresco, Diana and Endymion
(Palazzo Farnese, Rome), through the Diana and Endymion
(Capitoline Museums, Rome) of Rosa’s contemporary, Pier Francesco Mola.
Rosa’s picture also directly appealed to Pamphilij arts patronage of the 1650s, particularly Pietro da Cortona’s frescos of the Aeneid
in the Palazzo Pamphilj in Piazza Navona and Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain
erected in front of the family palace, both commissioned by Pope Innocent X. The shimmering effect of Rosa’s picture, generated by areas of impasto that catch light like water and brushstrokes that create slick glimmers that bounce off Aeneas’s armor, seems to mimic the splashes of Bernini’s pool. And as Volpi has noted, the figure of Tiberinus, with his strong, seated twisting body can be traced to the detail of Aeneas Arriving on the Shores of Italy
, where Cortona’s river god has a similarly hoary beard, head full of reeds, and powerful torso. Likewise, Jonathan Scott (1995) suggested that Tiberinus is possibly derived from Giambologna’s colossal Appenino
(reproduced in Stefano della Bella’s etching, 2012.136.537.6
). Rosa shifts the dynamism of these sources, however, to craft a less imposing Tiberinus, indicating a meeting between equals: the Roman river god and the hero who would found the city and empire before him.The Date
: The painting’s verticality, restricted palette, and bold sculptural figures pressed against the picture plane are all characteristic of Rosa’s mature career of the 1660s. With much of his subject matter, even when based on popular sources, he still chose to depict narrative moments that had little or no visual tradition. While Aeneas’s dream was not commonly depicted in paintings before Rosa, there were examples of the scene from illustrated editions of the Aeneid
, such as Pierre Lombart’s engraving after Francis Cleyn (in the 1658 Latin edition of John Ogilby’s Publii Virgilii Maronis Opera
). Even the densely illustrated Aeneid
cycle in the Palazzo Pamphilj did not contain a scene of the dream prophecy. As always, Rosa strove to paint subjects that, in his own words, “no one’s brush had touched before.”
For such a large and commanding picture, The Dream of Aeneas
is surprisingly absent from seventeenth-century sources. Xavier Salomon (2010) has suggested that the erudite subject matter and large scale indicate that it was made for public exhibition in Rome in the 1660s. Rosa frequently participated in these annual exhibitions, particularly those at San Giovanni Decollato and the Pantheon, which were a suitable system for Rosa’s desire to maintain control over the inspiration and design of his pictures. The subject was in line with the seventeenth-century reinvigorated interest in Golden Age Roman poetry, as well as the scientific and esoteric interests of Athanasius Kircher, who was working on his edition of Latium
in the late 1650s (see Volpi 2014).
The first reference to the picture is from an 1818 exhibition in London of the paintings of George Gillows, in which the catalogue claimed that the eight works by Rosa (including the Aeneas
) had formerly been in the collection of Prince Pio di Savoia—a convincing claim, though difficult to prove without eighteenth-century documentation. The picture was then sold in 1832 to the 2nd Lord Northwick and remained at Northwick Park, Gloucestershire, until its acquisition by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1965.The Etching
: Like several of his large pictures from the 1650s and 1660s, Rosa also produced an etched version of The Dream of Aeneas
). In the etching, the sleeping Trojan hero has propped himself with interlocked hands atop a shield (rather than resting on a rock) with a more heavily wooded background and more visible jar from which the Tiber allegorically flows under Tiberinus.
The question of whether the painting or the etching came first has long puzzled scholars. Following Richard Wallace, scholars generally agree that the print dates to about 1662–63, after the painting. However, in a letter to his friend Giovanni Battistia Ricciardi on October 21, 1663, Rosa explained why he had added the word "pinx" (for "pinxit") on his etchings: "Per sodisfarvi circa a quell Pinx delle mie carte, ce l'ho messo per mia cortesia e per far credere ch'io intanto l'ho intagliate, in quanto l'havevole dipinte. Ma la verità è che dall'Attilio in poi, tra le grandi, del Democrito e Dioggene della scodella, fra le mezzane, nessun'altra è stata da me collorita" (In order to satisfy you concerning that “pinx” of my prints, I’ve written it there for my own sake and in order to suggest that I etched them because I painted them. But the truth is that, from the Atilius
onwards, and the Democritus
and Diogenes with the Bowl
among the medium-sized prints, I’ve not painted any of the other printed subjects.” Rosa’s letter and stylistic similarities to works of the mid-1660s would suggest that the painting was likely executed between 1663 and 1665 (see Salerno 1963, Tomory 1971, Rotili 1974, Langdon 1980 and 2008, Scott 1995, Christiansen 2005, and Salomon 2010). However, Michael Kitson (1973) raised suspicions that either could have been executed first.
At the heart of the debate is an ink and wash drawing (Musée du Louvre, Paris; 9741, see fig. 5 above) that depicts the full composition with Aeneas resting on a rock with several possible poses for Tiberinus’s gesturing arm. Following Prohaska (2008), Salomon (2010) read the drawing as closer to the painting, with the final position of Tiberinus’s arm extending outwards, and concludes that the drawing served as an intermediary design between the painting and therefore subsequent etching. The trouble with this linear logic, however, is that Rosa constantly revisited pictures, themes, and poses throughout his creative process, and none of his “final” sketches exactly correspond to their finished pictures. Unfortunately, Rosa was inconsistent in reversing the orientation of the etchings compared to their paintings (both Democritus
were reversed from their original orientation, but the Atilius
was not), so the prints do not offer a solution.
While a definitive conclusion may be difficult to ascertain, x-radiographs demonstrate that Rosa worked directly on the canvas, therefore with enough spontaneous confidence to work without an underdrawing. He still made slight adjustments to refine the composition, particularly the river god’s hair, which was originally wilder, as it appears in the etching. Rosa subsequently covered the darker olive fronds with the background to make the reeds more naturalistically fall around his face, a change that strengthens the argument that the painting was done after the etching. This kind of editing, clarifying the etching into the picture—also seen in the way that Rosa pares down the background and removes the shield—helps bring the psychological focus of the picture into the dream world of its majestic characters.
Hannah Segrave 2019
 See Mahoney 1977, group 74.
 Hoare, The Letters of Salvator Rosa
, London, 2018, pp. 634–35. The three paintings Rosa refers to are The Death of Atilius Regulus
(ca. 1652, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond), Democritus in Meditation
(1650–51, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen), and Diogenes Throwing Away His Bowl
(1651–52, Statens Museum for Kunst).