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Rape of the Sabines

CAT 138 Busby after Poussin Rape of the Sabines BA 123.jpg

CAT 138. T. L. Busby after N. Poussin. Rape of the Sabines, from the painting in the Louvre, c. 1635. London: Vernor, Hood & Sharpe, 1809. Reproduced in the Historic Gallery of Portraits and Paintings, vol. 6, 1810. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Poussin painted two versions of The Rape of the Sabine Women in the 1630s, the one in the Louvre engraved for the Historic Gallery, and the one currently at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Authorities differ as to which one was earlier in the decade, but they agree as to the difference in treatment, the one in the Louvre, engraved by T. L. Busby here, being more immediate in its psychological action, the one at the Metropolitan being more classically composed and formally balanced (see Friedlaender, pp. 142-45, and Blunt, nos. 179-80). Even in Busby’s outline engraving, one can feel the powerful forces that are unleashed by the simple gesture of Romulus, on the pedestal at the right, raising his mantle.

The historical story of the rape of the Sabine women had been variously told by Livy, Plutarch, and Virgil. The commentary in the Historic Gallery emphasizes the “infancy” of Rome at the time, the “frequency” with Romulus has “solicited” the daughters of the Sabines in marriage to his soldiers, and the deception by which he had invited the Sabines to a festival honoring Neptune at which, when Romulus gave the signal, “the Romans . . . carried away the virgins, and drove their fathers and mothers out of the city.” Although this subject has been treated by many painters, “no one has handled it so happily as Poussin.” No other painter could have so effectively “varied all the expressions of the numerous figures which form this composition. . . . The moment of anxiety and agitation is most ably represented.” The painter can only be faulted for giving the buildings of the city an “air of magnificence” that could not have been possible in the historical period depicted (n. p.).

Thomas Lord Busby was an English engraver and portraitist active between 1804 and 1837. He engraved two other images after Poussin that Melville acquired from the Historic Gallery: Moses Exposed (CAT 140) and St. Peter and St. John Curing the Lame (CAT 141).