This colourful painting shows a scene from ancient
history (390BC): the Gauls are attacking Rome while the Vestal
Virgins, charged with watching over the sacred fire in the temple
of Vesta, escape. Their escape is shown rather like a comic strip,
in that they appear at least three times: getting into a chariot
in the foreground, being transported away on the right, and arriving
and praying at the Temple of Caere at the top and top right. They
were helped by a Roman nobleman, who is indicated by his large
and distinctive hat and who appears in each section of the story.
Also fleeing are regular townsfolk who use donkeys to carry their
This work, along with a companion panel (The Battle of Allia,
now in the Italian Embassy, London), comprises a panorama of the
buildings and monuments of ancient Rome. In the top left corner
you can see the column of Marcus Aurelius, the Pantheon and Hadrians
mausoleum (now the Castel SantAngelo). These panels may
have formed the decorative scheme around a room or could have
been spalliera panels (spalla meaning shoulder) which were originally
backboards to chests and later came to be inserted into walls.
The perspective in this painting suggests it was meant to be seen
at eye-level. Livy is likely to have been the literary source
for this picture.