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John Hamilton Mortimer

The Tale of Cornelia and Tiberius Gracchus

Artist

John Hamilton Mortimer
Eastbourne, England, 1740 – London 1779

Title

The Tale of Cornelia and Tiberius Gracchus

Date

About 1770

Materials

Pen and ink, ink wash

Dimensions

14.6 x 25.4 cm

Credits

Gift of Susan Watterson, inv. 2012.194

Collection

Graphic Arts

John Mortimer was an accomplished and successful painter, draftsman and etcher. His pen and wash drawings, although executed rapidly, show great precision, with elaborate and careful cross-hatching and highly controlled use of fluid washes to effectively convey transitioning shadows and volumes. The subject here is very likely the story of Cornelia, daughter of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, wife of the elderly Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and mother of the radical reformers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus. The epitome of the virtuous Roman matrona, she bore her husband twelve children, only three of whom survived into adulthood. Upon finding a pair of snakes in his bed, her husband consulted an augur who said that if Tiberius killed the female snake, Cornelia would die, but if he killed the male snake, he would die. Tiberius killed the male snake and died soon after.

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