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Virgil Reading the "Aeneid" to Augustus, Octavia, and Livia

A work made of oil on canvas.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of oil on canvas.




Jean Baptiste Joseph Wicar
French, 1762-1834

About this artwork

In the late 18th century, the French Academy promoted a severely Classical approach to history painting as a means to regenerate art—and in contrast to the perceived decadence of the Rococo style. Jacques-Louis David and his students were leading exponents of this Neoclassical approach, treating antique subjects as moral exemplars for contemporary audiences. Here, David’s student Jean-Baptiste Wicar depicted the response of the Roman emperor Augustus and his family to Virgil’s reading of his epic poem the Aeneid, which tells the story of Aeneas, the Trojan prince who settled in Latium after many adventures and was viewed as an ancestor of Augustus. The emotionally charged gestures of Augustus and his sister Octavia suggest that they identify their own family drama with the heroic events recounted by Virgil.


On View, Gallery 218


Painting and Sculpture of Europe


Jean Baptiste Joseph Wicar


Virgil Reading the "Aeneid" to Augustus, Octavia, and Livia


France (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Oil on canvas


Inscribed on Virgil's scroll: TU MAR[CELLUS ERIS]


111.1 × 142.6 cm (43 3/4 × 56 1/8 in.)

Credit Line

Wirt D. Walker Fund

Reference Number


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