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The Death of Dido

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

France, 17th and 18th centuries

Montalbetti Valérie

Dido, Queen of Carthage, was abandoned by Aeneas and killed herself in despair. For his reception piece at the Academy in 1711, Cayot treated this dramatic Virgilian episode with virtuosity, neglecting neither the drama of the moment nor the sensuality of the abandoned queen.

The iconography

Dido, the founder and queen of Carthage, has just been abandoned by the Trojan hero Aeneas, son of Venus, gone in search of a new kingdom. She decides to kill herself on a pyre built to burn her faithless lover's possessions. The theme is taken from Virgil's Aeneid (written in the 1st century BC), which recounts the legendary adventures of Aeneas: his flight after the sack of Troy by the Greeks, and his journey to Italy where he was to found the Roman Empire.

Death and sensuality

The scene is theatrical: the queen, kneeling on the pyre, eyes raised heavenward, plunges her lover's sword into her breast, thrusting the sheath behind her with her left arm. A few drops of blood flow from the wound.
Tragedy and sensuality are closely mingled here: Dido's suicidal pose, as she kneels on a soft cushion, is both elegant and revealing. Her fine tunic, open at her breast, shows the line of her thigh; the flowing cloak that has slipped from her shoulder is held in place at the hip by a finely-worked clasp, and a lock of hair emphasizes the nudity of her shoulder.

A virtuoso work

Cayot demonstrated his skillful rendering of textures with this funeral pyre: an artful pile of branches, logs, and Aeneas's armor. The Trojan hero's helmet with its plumed crest is an enormous fish head with an evil-looking eye, its gaping mouth turned toward the spectator.
The artist presented this virtuoso work for his admission into the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture on 31 December 1711. In the 18th century, sculpture in the round replaced the bas-relief work previously required by the institution.


Souchal François, French Sculptor of the 17th and 18th centuries, The reign of Louis XIV, Oxford, I, n. 6a, p. 87 ; IV, n. 6, p. 27.

Technical description

  • Augustin CAYOT (Paris, 1667 - Paris, 1772)

    The Death of Dido


  • Marble

    H. 0.86 m; W. 0.55 m; D. 0.59 m

  • M.R. 1780

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Petite galerie de l'Académie
    Room 219

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