This painting depicts a mythical deed of self-sacrifice inevitably identified with the artist’s own life story and act of suicide. In legend, a giant chasm once opened up in the centre of ancient Rome. Marcus Curtius persuaded the gods to close it again by jumping in and sacrificing himself.
In almost every sense Benjamin Robert Haydon was a model nineteenth century romantic genius, as he himself believed. At times arrogant and self destructive, he was also a gifted intellectual and friend to politicians, such as Robert Peel, and the poets William Wordsworth and John Keats. Born in Plymouth, Devon, he studied at the Royal Academy schools in London and soon decided on history painting as a career. Unimpressed by much of the work around him, he determined to revive the art of painting historical, mythological and biblical subjects on a grand scale. Constantly short of money and frustrated by lack of recognition, he was also forced to paint conventional portraits and scenes from everyday life.
After a long struggle against the establishment, Haydon and his allies persuaded central government to become directly involved in the patronage of art through publicly funded training and the commissioning of frescoes in the House of Commons. However, his failure to gain a commission came as a bitter blow and he became increasingly despondent. On the 22 June, 1846 he committed suicide with razorblade and pistol.