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Final Farewell: The Culture of Death and the Afterlife

The Spectacle of Death: Funerary Customs in Ancient Greece and Italy

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According to ancient Roman sources, Sophonisba was a beautiful Carthaginian noblewoman who lived during the Second Punic War (218–202 BCE). She was first betrothed to Massinissa, leader of the eastern Numidians, but Massinissa’s subsequent alliance to Rome angered Sophonisba’s father, who dissolved the engagement. He then betrothed Sophonisba to Syphax, his new ally and leader of the western Numidians. When the two Numidian leaders eventually clashed on the battlefield, Syphax was defeated by Massinissa and his Roman allies. Sophonisba was thus taken prisoner as an enemy of Rome. Professing his love for her, Massinissa pleaded with the Romans for her release. When they refused, he arranged for Sophonisba to drink poison and avoid the shame of being taken as captive to Rome and marched in a victory parade.

Sophonisba’s story was immortalized many times over by artists such as Rubens, Rembrandt, and Reni. Later she became the subject of many tragedies and operas in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Matthäus Merian the Younger
(Swiss, 1621–1687)
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Olden

Matthäus Merian the Younger

The son of a Swiss engraver and draftsman, the younger Merian worked throughout Europe as a portrait and historical painter. He first worked with art historian and artist Joachim von Sandrart and later with the great portraitist Anthony van Dyck. By 1643, young Merian had established himself as a painter and had his own studio.

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