© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

More savage than war, luxury burdened (Rome)

and avenged the conquered world.

— Juvenal, Satire 6

A trope of Roman literature was to lament the decay of moral standards, comparing the noble past with the debauched present, often using the excesses of banqueting to illustrate the point. Inspired by the first-to-second-century CE satirist Juvenal, Couture contrasted the orgy in the foreground with the dignified sculptures in the background as an allegory for the degeneration of his own time. Based on real sculptures of famous Romans, the statues look scornfully down on the proceedings, their heroic nudity contrasting with that of the revelers, which is anything but. Some of the celebrants recline, as was common at Roman dinner parties; others mirror the statues’ poses or offer toasts to them. Symbols of the wine god Bacchus in the scene connect the proceedings to wild Bacchanalia, while the two philosophers at the right convey the disapproval of civilized society.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
1943.224
People
Thomas Couture, French (Senlis (Oise) 1815 - 1879 Villiers-le-Bel)
Title
Romans of the Decadence
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Romains de la Decadence
Alternate Title: The Roman Festival
Classification
Paintings
Work Type
painting
Date
1847
Culture
French
Location
Level 3, Room 3700, Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Art, Roman Art
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Physical Descriptions
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
sight: 59.37 x 91.12 cm (23 3/8 x 35 7/8 in.)
framed: 78 x 110 cm (30 11/16 x 43 5/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.l. (on base of column): T. C.
  • inscription: Conservation file notes inscription on back: Plus cruel que la guerre le vice s'est abbatu sur Rome et venge le univers vaincu/"Sa vior armis Luxuria incubit, victum qui [il?] ciscitur orbeum" Juvenal Sat VI.
Provenance
Braxton Art Company, New York, sold to Grenville L. Winthrop, 1941.
Grenville L. Winthrop, Purchase from Braxton Art Company, NY, 1941, Bequest to Fogg Art Museum, 1943. Winthrop paid $700.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
1943
Object Number
1943.224
Division
European and American Art
Contact
am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu
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Publication History

Jean Joseph Seznec, "The Romans of the Decadence and their Historical Significance", Gazette des Beaux-Arts (October 1943), XXIV, pp. 221-232, p. 222, repr. p. 223 as fig. 1 and p. 229 as fig. 4 (detail)

Albert Boime, Thomas Couture and the Eclectic Vision, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT and London, England, 1980)

Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 103; repr. as no. 288

Chikashi Kitazaki and Mina Oya, ed., Between Reality and Dreams: Nineteenth Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum, exh. cat., National Museum of Western Art (Ueno, 2002), p. 31, repr. as fig. 23

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., A Private Passion: 19th-Century Paintings and Drawings from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, Harvard University, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press (U.S.) (New York, 2003), repr. in b/w p. 36, as fig. 38

Stephan Wolohojian, Ingres, Burne-Jones, Whistler, Renoir... La Collection Grenville L. Winthrop, exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and Réunion des Musées Nationaux (Paris, France, 2003), repr. in b/w p. 43, as fig. 37

Old Master & Early British Drawings & Watercolors, auct. cat., Christie's, New York (New York, January 31, 2013), p. 154

Exhibition History

Master Paintings from the Fogg Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/13/1977 - 08/31/1977

For Students of Art and Lovers of Beauty: Highlights from the Collection of Grenville L. Winthrop, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/16/2004

32Q: 3700 Roman, Harvard Art Museums, 11/01/2014

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu