The birth of the Roman Republic was accompanied by a lot of violence. Tarquinius Superbus, the last king and of Etruscan descent, was overthrown in 509 BC by the people, who were tired of his cruel and unjust policies. Tarquinius fled the city and enlisted the help of the king Porsenna, also an Etrusk. Porsenna marched against Rome with his troops and things soon looked bad for the city. One night, the Roman soldier Mucius Scaevola entered the camp of the Etruscans with the aim of carrying out an attack on Porsenna. He was caught and sentenced to death by the king. To show that he had no fear, Mucius then put his right hand into a fire and endured the pain. Porsenna was so impressed by this that he released the soldier. Mucius earned the nickname Scaevola (left-handed) and became an example of strength, fearlessness and patriotism. It is the scene in which Mucius puts his hand into the fire without hesitation, which is depicted in this drawing.
The drawing has been attributed to Rembrandt for a long time. The picturesque treatment of the subject, the light and the similarities with other representations from history, such as the well-known history painting in Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden, seemed to justify such an attribution. Most art historians now agree that not Rembrandt, but Jan Lievens is the maker. Lievens (1607-1674) was a fellow townsman and contemporary of Rembrandt. His talent for art was recognized early on and, just like Rembrandt a little later, he was apprenticed to the Amsterdam painter Pieter Lastman (1583-1633). This large and complex depiction is testimony to the extraordinary talent of the young Lievens. Directly behind the king, a young man can be seen looking directly at the viewer; this can only be a self-portrait of the artist.
Pen and brown ink, brown and grey wash, black chalk, 455 x 535 mm, PK-T-AW-903.