This piece was painted by the German artist, Karl Theodor von Piloty (1826–1886). Depicted here is the assassination of the Roman dictator, Julius Caesar, on the Ides of March (March 15) in the year 44 BCE—a historical event that inspired many other painters besides Karl von Piloty. The artist’s reconstruction of this scene closely follows the ancient sources, such as the Roman biographer, Suetonius (c. 70-130+), who graphically described the assassination:
“As soon as Caesar took his seat the conspirators crowded around him as if to pay their respects. Tillius Cimber, who had taken the lead, came up close, pretending to ask a question. Caesar made a gesture of postponement, but Cimber caught hold of his shoulders. ‘This is violence!’ Caesar cried, and at that moment one of the Casca brothers slipped behind and with a sweep of his dagger stabbed him just below the throat. Caesar grasped Casca’s arm and ran it through with his stylus; he was leaping away when another dagger caught him in the breast. Confronted by a ring of drawn daggers…Twenty-three dagger thrusts went home as he stood there” (The Twelve Caesars, Divus Julius, section 82).
Such was the scene that Karl von Piloty captured. He chose to paint the earliest moments of the attack, when Caesar was more confused than afraid, and at a time when the first dagger blow was mere seconds away from plunging into the dictator’s throat.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, translated by Robert Graves and edited by James B. Rives. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007.