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Workshop of Giulio Romano (Rome c. 1499-Mantua 1546)

The Sacrifice of a Goat to Jupiter c. 1536-9

RCIN 406166

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This is one of five panels in the Royal Collection by Giulio Romano that originally belonged an elaborate decorative scheme for the state apartments within the Palazzo Ducale, Mantua. This panel comes from one of the grandest rooms, the Camerino dei Cesari (Cabinet of the Caesars), the decoration of which consisted principally of eleven powerful canvases of the Roman Emperors by Titian. The subject matter is drawn from Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars, and reflects Federico Gonzaga’s obsession with imperial themes. Completed in 1540, Titian’s images were sadly destroyed by fire in Spain in 1734.

Giuilo played a subsidiary role in the decoration of the room; responsible for the broader ensemble into which Titian’s ‘portraits’ were fitted, he provided scenes from the life of each Emperor, to be placed below the portraits (of the original eleven only four have survived, three are in the Royal Collection). Flanking these scenes were mounted figures by Giulio representing the Emperors, and one female figure with a horse representing Victory (there were probably originally twelve of these figures, of which nine survive, two are in the Royal Collection). The ensemble of three walls (omitting the west wall) is recorded by drawings attributed to Ippolito Andreasi, c.1568 (Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf), commissioned by the antiquarian Jacopo Strada. The relationship between the grand Titian figures and Giulio’s narrative scenes below has been compared to the hierarchy of an altarpiece: the predella with anecdotal scenes from the life of the saint who is depicted above, standing in majesty. Giulio’s skill lay in the illusionistic ensemble, bringing together architecture, painting and sculpture, designed to complement Titian’s work.

The Sacrifice of a Goat to Jupiter should have been placed below the Emperor Domitian, but his portrait could not be accommodated in the room, so this scene went below Titian’s Titus. For the space below Titian’s Vespasian, Giulio created his Triumph of Vespasian and Titus (Louvre, Paris), so that all twelve Emperors could be alluded to in the room. The narrow format of this panel probably reflects the tightness of the space available. The niche with its arabesques and circles here imitate the decoration of the real niches which alternated with Titian’s emperors.

According to Suetonius (The Twelve Caesars, xii, 14), the Emperor Domitian was haunted by predictions of death; he was prevented from at least one act of cruelty by a poem, which prophesied that he would be sacrificed like a goat if he carried it out. Here one Vestal tends the altar fire, beneath a statue of Jupiter, while another prepares to sacrifice the goat, with a child to collect the blood.