Hannibal Barca counting the rings of the Roman knights killed

Hannibal Barca counting the rings of the Roman knights killed at the Battle of Cannae (216 BC)

The wok by Flemish sculptor Sébastien Slodtz (1655-1726) depicts Hannibal Barca, a famous Carthaginian general, counting the rings of the Roman knights who were killed during the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC.

The work was initially designed as a pendant for French sculptor Nicolas Coustou’s Julius Caesar. Giradon made a terracotta model on the basis of which Slodtz executed the larger work.

The Battle of Cannae in 216 BC was one of the most significant battles of the Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome. Hannibal’s Carthaginian forces, despite being significantly outnumbered, were able to surround and defeat a much larger Roman army using a brilliant strategy known as the double envelopment.

After the battle, it is said that Hannibal gathered the rings from the fingers of the Roman knights who had fallen in battle. In ancient Rome, a knight was a member of the Roman aristocracy, and the wearing of a gold ring was a sign of their rank. By collecting the rings of the knights, Hannibal sought to emphasize the extent of his victory over Rome and to intimidate the Romans with the loss of their elite soldiers.

Sébastien Slodtz’s work depicts Hannibal in a contemplative pose as he counts the rings, surrounded by the chaos and destruction of the battlefield. The work captures the sense of triumph and pride that Hannibal would have felt after his stunning victory, as well as the horror and devastation of war.

Who was Sébastien Slodtz?

Sébastien Slodtz (1655-1726) was an Antwerp, Belgium-born sculptor who worked primarily in the Baroque style. He moved to Paris at a young age. There, he trained in sculpture under his father, a well-known sculptor named Pierre Slodtz.

To further hone his talents, he joined the workshop of François Girardon, a renowned French sculptor best known for his statues and busts of French King Louis XIV. As a result, Slodtz had the chance to work in the French court at Versailles.

Steadily, he became one of the most prominent sculptors of his time, producing numerous works for churches, public spaces, and private collections. His style was characterized by its dynamism, theatricality, and attention to detail, and he often incorporated elements of classical mythology and allegory into his works. Some of his most famous works include the marble sculptures of Fame and Mercury in the Louvre Museum in Paris, as well as numerous works for the Palace of Versailles.

For example, he is best known for the sculpture Aristaeus fettering Proteus, which began in 1688 and then installed in 1714 in the Bassin d’Apollon on the grand terrace at Versailles, where it remains as of 2023.

Other famous works of Sébastien Slodtz are the statue of St Ambrose in the Dôme des Invalides (“house of invalids) in Paris, and a bas-relief Saint Louis sending missionaries to India.

Did you know?

Sébastien Slodtz was born in Antwerp, Belgium. He was the son of Jacqueline de Lannoy and a master carpenter.

Slodtz worked on a number of commissions for Louis XIV of Franch, many of which survive in Paris and at Versailles.

He tied the knot with Magdelain de Guichy in 1692. His wife was the daughter of Domenico Cucci, a silversmith to king Louis XIV.

He and his wife had 13 children together, including a son called René-Michel Slodtz (1705–1764). His daughter Maria Francisca Slodtz was the wife of Flemish painter Carel van Falens.

He served as the rector of Académie de Saint-Luc, a guild of sculptors and painters that existed from the late 14th century to the late 18th century in Paris.

Slodtz lived at the Louvre from 1699 until his death on May 9, 1726.