Marius Amid the Ruins of Carthage
John Vanderlyn (1775-1852)
Oil on wood panel
32 H x 25 3/8 W
Signed, lower left: J. Vanderlyn / pinxt. 1832 / New York
Albany Institute of History & Art Purchase
John Vanderlyn was one of the leading American historical painters of the early nineteenth century, and with this work, becomes the most dedicated proponent of the neoclassical aesthetic in America. The subject is taken from a story in Plutarch's Lives of the ancient Roman general and consul Caius Marius, who was banished from Rome because of his unbridled passions and ambitions. Marius is seen sitting in exile amid the ruins of Carthage in North Africa, which had been destroyed by Romans. The artist aimed to "reveal in two great instances the instability of human grandeur—a city in ruins and a fallen general." The fate of Marius has been compared with that of the painter's patron, Aaron Burr, whose fortunes changed dramatically after he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel and was tried for treason. The Albany Institute's Marius is a small version of a painting of the same subject that won Vanderlyn a gold medal at the prestigious Paris Salon of 1808 and is now in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.