The image of Scipio Africanus is from the Royal Castle’s historic interiors and is one of four figures of ancient leaders which was installed in the Throne Room.
The sculpture was inspired by the stereotypical statues of Romans wearing togas (togati). The model for the head may have been a likeness of the Priest of Isis, a basalt sculpture in the Palazzo Rospigliosi in Rome.
Like the sculptures in other interiors of the castle, those in the Throne Room (which was furnished on the initiative of King Stanisław August between 1784 and 1786) were intended to promote specific ideas as well as being closely related to the room’s function. The figures commissioned from Puccinelli could be interpreted as being personifications of the four cardinal virtues that should distinguish every monarch: Scipio symbolized Moderation, Hannibal—Valour, Pompey—Justice and Julius Caesar—Wisdom. Stanisław August may have decided to commission portraits of men that lived during the period of the Roman Republic to encourage reflection about Rome’s history and political system and about ties with tradition. The King’s choice of protagonists may also have been inspired by the fact that all four Roman statesmen appeared in François Fénelon’s Dialogues which was highly popular at that time. In the Dialogues Scipio, Hannibal, Pompey and Caesar, who were at odds with one another not only on the battlefield but also in the political area, symbolize “[...] the nonsense of aggressive warfare, the fleetingness of fame obtained at the expense of others, misery, the unclean mechanisms of governance and pride of rulers". This was a patently obvious allusion to the internal disputes in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the last quarter of the 18th century.
When working on the individual sculptures, Puccinelli imitated the clothing of commanders and borrowed formal solutions from well-known ancient monuments. When evaluating the artist’s skill it is worth noticing that although many parts of the figures reveal an insufficient knowledge of anatomy, the modelling of the drapery, for example, led to the creation of interesting chiaroscuro effects.
The sculptures remained in the Throne Room until 1939. From 1939–83 they were housed in the National Museum in Warsaw and were also exhibited in the Old Orangery. In 1983 they were transferred to the rebuilt Royal Castle.
Signed ANG. PUCCINELLI on back of base.
Inscribed SCIPIO AFRICANVS on front of base.
Scipio Africanus, full name Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Maior (235–183 BC), Roman consul and commander in the Second Punic War. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Cannae (216 BC). In 209 BC he conquered New Carthage, the Carthaginians’ most important base in Spain. He defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC.