Dosso Dossi, The Trojans Building the Temple to Venus at Eryx and Making Offerings at Anchises's Grave, c. 1520. Oil on canvas, 59.4 x 85.6 cm (23 3/8 x 33 5/8 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington. Purchased as the Gift of Anonymous.
This painting was originally part of the decoration of Duke Alfonso d’Este’s camerino, or study, in his castle at Ferrara, which featured one of the most important mythological cycles of the Italian Renaissance. The decoration of the camerino included five large canvases with pagan subjects by Giovanni Bellini, Titian, and Dosso Dossi. Above the principal pictures, a painted frieze by Dossi depicted scenes from Virgil’s Aeneid, which tells the story of Aeneas, who founded the state of Rome after wandering for seven years following the Trojan War. Two paintings from Duke Alfonso d’Este’s camerino are already in the National Gallery’s collection: Giovanni Bellini and Titian’s Feast of the Gods (1514/1529) and Dossi’s Aeneas and Achates on the Libyan Coast (c. 1520).
The Trojans Building the Temple to Venus at Eryx and Making Offerings at Anchises’s Grave and the other nine panels of the Aeneas frieze were acquired by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1608 and remained in his family for two centuries before the Spanish collector Pascal Madrazo purchased them between 1803 and 1819. The catalog of the Madrazo collection, published in 1856, indicates that the Aeneas frieze was intact through 1856, when they were recorded among the possessions of José de Madrazo y Agudo (1781–1859), former court painter and one of the early directors of the Prado Museum in Madrid.
When the series was separated and dispersed, one of Dossi’s canvases was bisected, separating Aeneas and Achates on the Libyan Coast from The Trojans Building the Temple to Venus at Eryx and Making Offerings at Anchises’s Grave. The discovery of this work helps to clarify the subject of the complete frieze cycle, which does not represent Aeneas and Achates on the Libyan coast in book 1 of the Aeneid, as was formerly believed. Rather it depicts various incidents described in book 5: the meeting of Aeneas and his friend Acestes (Achates) in Sicily, offerings made at the tomb of Aeneas’s father Anchises, and the erection of the temple dedicated to Venus at Eryx.