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Preview image of work. oil on canvas,  The Continence of Scipio 152

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The Continence of Scipio

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[attributed to John Smibert]; [after Nicolas Poussin]


The Continence of Scipio

Creation Date

ca. 1726


18th century


45 3/4 in. x 62 5/8 in. (116.21 cm x 159.07 cm)

Object Type


Creation Place

North America, United States

Medium and Support

oil on canvas

Credit Line

Bequest of the Honorable James Bowdoin III


Public Domain

Accession Number


The College’s founder James Bowdoin III (1752–1811) understood European artistic traditions to be essential to education and bequeathed his art collection to the College upon his death. He acquired this copy after Nicolas Poussin’s The Continence of Scipio of 1640 (now at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow) from the Boston, Massachusetts, studio of John Smibert, where it served as an exemplar of the classical style for a generation of American artists. It tells the story of the Roman general Scipio, who returned a female captive to her fiancé rather than enslaving her. As a parable of self-control and the expansion of empire through virtue and valor, the scene became exceptionally popular when the burgeoning United States built its own identity. In this spirit, the painting was understood to provide moral guidance to Bowdoin students in the College’s early years.