Marcus Curtius, animal hides of Roman heroes
This set of painted leather panels come from an apartment of the hotel d’Étancourt, located on Rue du Gros-Horloge in Rouen. It constitutes one of the most beautiful examples conserved in France of painted hides, a technique that was often used to decorate the walls of rich bourgeois houses in the second half of the 16th century and the 17th century. Nonetheless, the fragile nature of this material explains the fact that the leather wall hangings were poorly conserved: the richness of decoration and the iconographic interest of the set are only growing in importance.
The figures represented on this set are directly inspired by engravings completed by Flemish painter Hendrick Goltzius, whose numerous prints had a considerable influence on the whole of artistic production of the late 16th century. The subjects, taken from a series dedicated to heroes of Roman history, must have given the spectator an enlightening example of self-denial while at the same time guaranteeing the magnanimity and courage of their owner. The allegory of Rome, in the centre, is preceded by Titus Manlius pushing back the Gauls who had led a surprise attack on the Capitol, Horatius Coclès, sole defender of the Pons Seblicius against Porsena before throwing himself in the water, and Manlius Torquatus, battling a giant Gaul. This is followed by Mucius Scaevola putting his right hand in a raging blaze as ordered by Porsena, and by Marcus Calpurnius saving the Roman army by turning attention from Carthage and onto his small troop, then by Marcus Curtius rushing forward with his weapons and his horse into a chasm that closes up behind him.
Three other pieces featuring the last scenes represented in the Goltzius set were possibly lost.
The use of Nordic models is one more clue to make one think of this set as being an original production from Amsterdam, in competition with the gilded leathers produced in large quantity in Spain. The origin of this prestigious piece also confirms the fundamental place held by Rouen in the French Renaissance, being a meeting place of Italian and Flemish influences.