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Battle of Tullus Hostilius against the Veientes

Cesari Giuseppe called Cavalier d'Arpino

(Arpino 1568 - Rome 1640)

The painting, along with Venere incoronata da Amore [Venus crowned by Cupid], San Giovanni Battista [Saint John the Baptist], the Cattura di Cristo [Taking of Christ] and Calvario [Calvary], probably comes from the confiscation, ordered by Pope Paul V in 1607, of the works in the studio of Cavalier D’Arpino. This is the original model for the fresco painted by the artist in the Sala degli Orazi e Curiazi in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in the Campidoglio. It depicts the battle of King Tullius Hostilius against the Veienti and Fidenati with the dramatic episode of the retreat of the Albans, allies of the Romans, shown on the right of the composition. Cesari captures the battle in the moment of the clash between the two ranks of horsemen. 


Object details

1596-1597 circa
oil on canvas
cm 67 x 89

19th-century, 97 x 115 x 9 cm (with cymatium)


Rome, Giuseppe Cesari called Cavalier d’Arpino, ante 1607, inv. no. 44; Rome, Scipione Borghese Collection, 1607; Inv. 1693, room XI, no. 73; Rome, Pietro Camuccini Collection, 1800; Rome, Camillo Borghese Collection, ante 1833; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 11, no. 30; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1973 Roma, Palazzo Venezia 
  • 2001 Roma, Palazzo Venezia
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1997 Francesca Capanna - ICR (indagini diagnostiche e restauro)


This canvas depicts the battle that pitted the Roman army against that of the Veientes and the Fidenates. The action takes place under a gloomy sky: a group of enemy soldiers occupy the left of the scene, while the actual fighting takes place in the centre. In the foreground, a fallen warrior lying on his white horse stands out. On the right we see the king, Tullus Hostilius, who mounted on his steed turns around to receive the message of a soldier that the Albans, confederates of Rome, are retreating toward the mountains. The composition makes multiple references to The Battle of the Milvian Bridge, the fresco in the Vatican by Raphael and Giulio Romano. It is crowded with fallen horses and unhorsed cavalry soldiers, which together form a tangle of bodies typical of battle scenes; this genre would indeed be popular throughout the 17th century.

For this work, Cesari drew on Livy’s account of the conflict (Ab Urbe condita, I, 27). He depicts the moment in which Tullus Hostilius orders his army to return to battle and raise all their lances to hide the flight of their allies, intending to make the enemy believe that the Albans were actually approaching to encircle them, which would favour Rome’s victory. This circumstance is given greater emphasis in the fresco in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on Capitoline Hill, which was commissioned to the artist in 1595 but not completed before 1601: here Cesari again depicted all the excitement of the ferocious battle, though with significant compositional differences and more spatial balance. The fresco had a great impact and was used as a model by all painters who depicted battle scenes over the following decades (see F. Zeri, La nascita della “Battaglia come genere” e il ruolo del Cavalier d’Arpino in La Battaglia nella pittura del XVII e XVIII secolo, Parma 1986, pp. IX-XXVII). The work in question indeed functioned as the first model for the fresco on Capitoline Hill, which was concluded several years later and which reveals the artist’s stylistic development in the interval. In view of the dynamic, dramatic character of the movements and the restless distribution of light and dark tones, the canvas can be dated to 1596-97, that is, the same period in which Cesari executed the Taking of Christ, which likewise forms part of the Borghese Collection (inv. no. 356; Röttgen 2002, pp. 304, 309).

Cesari probably kept the painting in question in his studio, together with five others by him or his circle, all of which are in the Galleria Borghese today. These works were most likely among the goods confiscated from the artist at the behest of Paul V in 1607, in the wake of accusations of illegal possession of weapons. After appropriating the works, the pope gave them to the cardinal-nephew Scipione Borghese, who thus became the new owner of the more than 100 works that had formed Cesari’s collection; many of these are still held by the Museum today. Although it lacks attributions, the confiscation inventory mentions a ‘medium-sized painting of a battle, without a frame’, which could well refer to this work. A document dated 18 November 1611 shows that a payment was made to Vittorio Roncone ‘for a frame made for the painting of the battle by Gioseppe’ (quoted in Röttgen 1973, p. 89). In addition to confirming the fact that the painting became part of the cardinal’s collection at an early date, this information lends credence to the hypothesis this is in fact the work referred to in 1607 inventory, where it is said to be without a frame.

Herwarth Röttgen supported this version of the circumstances regarding the painting, although he did cite a passage by Karel van Mander which suggested that the work was purchased directly from the artist; this supposition, however, is not confirmed by other sources (Röttgen 2002, p. 304). The inventory of 1693 is precise in its entry for the work and leaves no doubt as to its identification: ‘a painting of roughly three spans in height with a battle, by Gioseppe d'Arpino, no. 457, gilded frame’. The inventory number 457 is indeed visible on the painting between the fallen horse and soldier in the foreground. The attribution to Cesari is also confirmed by the 1833 fideicommissum inventory and has never been doubted by critics. New documentary evidence that will soon be published shows that the painting was sold to the merchant and collector Pietro Camuccini at the end of the 18th century and purchased again by Camillo Borghese some 20 years later. This detail reminds us of the famous dispersions of Roman art collections in the late 18th century because of economic difficulties; it further attests to Camillo’s endeavour to fill the gaps in the Borghese Collection and to recreate its former integrity once he had put the family’s financial matters in order.

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • K. Van Mander, Het Schilder-Boeck, [Haarlem 1604], ristampa anastatica Utrecht 1969, f. 189 sgg;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 361;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 198;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I: La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 215;
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell'Arte Italiana, IX, Roma 1932, 5, p. 939;
  • P. Della Pergola, Itinerario della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1951, p. 43;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp.64-65, n. 93;
  • P. Della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (III), “Arte Antica e Moderna”, n. 30, 1965, pp. 202-217, in part. p. 209;
  • H. Röttgen, Christ on the Mount of Olives, by Giuseppe Cesari, “Allean Memorial Art Museum Bulletin”, XXVIII, 1970, pp. 3-26, in part p. 14.
  • H. Röttgen in Il Cavalier D’Arpino, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Museo di Palazzo Venezia, 1973), a cura di H. Röttgen, Roma 1973, pp. 87-91, n. 17.
  • R. Wiecker, Wilhelm Heinses Beschreibung romischer Kunstschatze Palazzo Borghese – Villa Borghese, (1781-83), Kopenhagen 1977, pp. 45, 79;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in Caravaggio: la luce nella pittura lombarda, catalogo della mostra (Bergamo, Accademia Carrara, 2000), a cura di C. Strinati, Milano 2000, p. 65;
  • C. Stefani in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 318;
  • H. Röttgen, Il Cavalier Giuseppe Cesari D'Arpino: un grande pittore nello splendore della fama e nell'incostanza della fortuna, Roma 2002, p. 304, n. 65;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 129;
  • P. L. Puddu, Pietro Camuccini (1760-1833). Mercato e collezionismo di dipinti nella Roma napoleonica e della Restaurazione, tesi di dottorato, Sapienza Università di Roma, a.a. 2017/18, pp. 175-177.