This heroic equestrian figure is taken from Hendrick Goltzius' series of ten engravings of Roman Heroes dated 1586. They were dedicated to Emperor Rudolf II and consisted of eight heroes, taken from Livy's History of Rome, along with an allegorical frontispiece and end page, all accompanied by verses composed by Franco Estius. This picture is taken from the fourth hero in the series, Marcus Curtius (see fig. 1). Livy relates how a chasm appeared one day in the forum. The worried populous consulted the oracles who warned that Rome would perish unless the city threw that which was its greatest strength into the ravine. Curtius took it upon himself to mount a horse and ride into the chasm, thereby saving the Republic. The engraving carries the accompanying inscription in Latin:
Curtius cast himself into the gaping chasm to save the houses of Rome from a terrible disaster. Was it because of his brave, innocent heart or because of his patriotism that he carried out such a deed on this day?
Commenting on this plate, Nadine Orenstein regards it as '...the most finely engraved work in the group, the naturalistic facial features were cut into the copper plate with a delicate and varied touch, while a spectacular contrasting effect is created by the powerful, concentric lines that radiate around the rearing horse's neck and hindquarters' (Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617) Drawings, Prints and Paintings, exhibition catalogue, ed. H. Leeflang and G. Luijten, Zwolle, 2003, IV, 'Prints and Print Designs 1586-1590', pp. 89-92). As the most dramatic of the series it lent itself particularly well to full scale pictorial treatment, as in the present picture.