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Cléopâtre se donnant la mort

Historical painting occupied (along with religious painting) the most prestigious place among the accepted hierarchy of subjects that reigned in Western art before the 20th century. It was praised as the greatest and most serious type of art by critics and philosophers of the 18th century, who looked down upon the more popular portrait, landscape, and still life paintings that actually occupied most of the wall space in the homes of collectors.

It was common before the 19th century to depict historical figures in contemporary costumes. For example, Nero might be depicted in the garb of the 15th century king, or El Cid in historically inaccurate plate armor. Painters also commonly increased their sales by putting bare-breasted and nude women into every scene that could plausibly (or even possibly) include them. And of course, painters were always expected to portray events in a way that reflected the values and prejudices of their wealthy patrons. A historically accurate historical painting would actually have been quite unusual!

Historical paintings can be great clues to the secret history of the family inhabiting a Grand House such as Highdark Hall, or indications as to their actual political ( or religious) allegiance. A large amount of historical paintings present in a collection can warn PCs of the owner’s social pretensions, or intellectual snobbery. A historical painting might even be supernatural portal between the past and present!

d100

The painting depicts…

1 – 2

the abduction of the Sabine women. (circa 750 BC)

3 – 4

the suicide of Lucretia. (circa 500 BC)

5 – 6

the Battle of Marathon. (490 BC).

7 – 8

the Battle of Thermopylae. (480 BC)

9 – 10

the death of Socrates. (399 BC)

13 – 12

Alexander the Great in the Temple of Jerusalem. (332 BC)

13 – 14

Hannibal crossing the Alps. (218 BC)

15 – 16

the murder of Julius Caesar. (44 BC)

17 – 18

Cleopatra’s lavish pleasure ship arriving at Tarsos, to meet Marc Antony. (41 BC)

19 – 20

the defeat of Marc Antony’s naval forces at the Battle of Actium. (31 BC)

21 – 22

the suicide of Cleopatra. (30 BC)

23 – 24

the destruction of the Roman legions by Arminius during the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. (9 BC)

25 – 26

the Great Fire of Rome under the Emperor Nero. (64)

27 – 28

the Emperor Constantine’s vision of the Chi-Rho before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. (312)

29 – 30

the Council of Nicea. (325)

31 – 32

the sack of Rome by Alaric. (410)

33 – 34

Pope Leo I convincing Attila the Hun to spare Rome. (452)

35 – 36

Charles Martel defeating the Saracens at the Battle of Tours. (732)

37 – 38

the coronation of Charlemagne as Emperor. (800)

39 – 40

the “Cadaver Synod”, when Pope Stephen VI put the rotting corpse of former Pope Formosus on trial for perjury. (897)

41 – 42

an outraged husband catching his wife in bed with Pope John XII, and murdering the pontiff with a hammer. (964)

43 – 44

the Battle of Hastings. (1066)

45 – 46

the sack of Jerusalem by the Crusaders. (1099)

47 – 48

the last ride of El Cid, with his corpse tied to his horse. (1099)

49 – 50

the taking of Carcassonne during the Albigensian Crusades. (1209)

51 – 52

the signing of the Magna Carta. (1215)

53 – 54

Marco Polo in the court of Kublai Khan. (1275)

55 – 56

French knights facing English longbowmen at the Battle of Poitiers. (1356)

57 – 58

King Peter I of Portugal forcing his court to pay homage to the decayed corpse of Inês de Castro. (1357)

59 – 60

Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Templar Order, burnt at the stake. (1314)

61 – 62

the Battle of Agincourt. (1415) (Roll again in France.)

63 – 64

Saint Joan of Arc waving the French banner at the Siege of Orléans (1429). (Roll again in Britain.)

65 – 66

Saint Joan of Arc burnt at the stake. (1431)

67 – 68

the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. (1453)

69 – 70

the fall of the Alhambra in Granada. (1492)

71 – 72

Columbus stepping foot upon the shore of San Salvador (1492)

73 – 74

Cesare Borgia, his sister Lucrezia, and their father Pope Alexander VI, at the infamous “Banquet of Chestnuts”. (1501)

75 – 76

Hernando Cortes landing in Mexico. (1519)

77 – 78

the conquest of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) by Hernán Cortés. (1521)

79 – 80

the Sack of Rome by the forces of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. (1527)

81 – 82

the Siege of Vienna by the Turks. (1529)

83 – 84

the arrival of Catherine de Medici in France. (1533)

85 – 86

the execution of Atahualpa, the last Incan Emperor. (1533).

87 – 88

the defeat of the Ottoman Fleet at the battle of Lepanto. (1571)

89 – 90

the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. (1587)

91 – 92

the sinking of the Spanish Armada (1588) (Roll again for houses in Catholic countries.)

93 – 94

the coronation of Louis XIV. (1654)

95 – 96

the Battle of Vienna. (1683)

97 – 98

the Great Fire of London. (1666)

99 – 100

The Great Lisbon Earthquake. (1755)

d20

The strange thing about the depiction is…

1 – 4

nothing – everything about the painting appears perfectly ordinary and conventional.

5

the figures appear to be of different racial or ethnic backgrounds than reported in orthodox history.

6

one of the famous men of history is painted as having actually been a woman (or vice versa).

7

everyone is painted with animal heads.

8

the painter has included the figure of Satan snickering.

9

everyone is nude – even if the painting depicts a battle or coronation!

10

the colors are utterly bizarre and garish.

11

if you look away, and then look again at the painting, the figures look as if they have changed positions.

12

it appears to be the work of an otherwise unknown master.

13

it is so realistic-looking you feel as if you could reach in and touch the figures.

14

it done in a flat and stylized manner.

15

it seems impossible to ascertain what medium was used.

16

it seems almost self-luminous.

17

the presence of several mythological creatures.

18

the side usually accepted as heroic is painted as if they were villainous, and their opponents are depicted heroically.

19

one of the figures clearly has the face of a Player Character.

20

the series of seemingly random numbers and letters that have been incorporated into the composition.
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