The Life of Decius Mus tapestry series depicts Decius Mus and Titus Manlius leading the Roman armies against the Latins at Capua (340 - 338 BC). Both consuls had a dream in which a giant predicted that the leader of the one people and the army of the other would be sacrificed to the underworld. Consequently, one of the two leaders of the Roman army had to be prepared to lay down his life should the army of the adversary suffer defeat. This story was portrayed as an example of patriotism. This panel is the first tapestry of a set that usually consist of approximately eight panels, although series exist with as many as fourteen tapestries.
Franco Cattaneo first commissioned the set for a group of Genoese noblemen on 9 November 1616 from the ateliers of Jan Raes the elder (d. 1631) and Frans Sweerts. The contract stated that Rubens was to make the patterns, but also to judge the quality of the weaving which would have an effect on the price of the tapestries (D. Heinz, Europäische Tapisseriekunst des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts, Vienna, 1995, pp. 40 - 42 and G. Delmarcel et al., Rubenstextiel, exhibition catalogue, Antwerp, 1997, pp. 39 - 47).
This series was the first truly baroque tapestry design and replaced the Raphael designs of the early 16th Century such as the Acts of the Apostles, which had previously been very popular and continued to be woven throughout the 17th Century, although to a lesser degree. Being Peter Paul Rubens' (d. 1640) first tapestry set, designed in 1615, it was also the first replacement of the old series by a major designer and it guided tapestry design into a new phase. Six oil-paintings that served as basis for the cartoons (there appear to have existed more at one point) were bought in 1696, and still remain in the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein in Vaduz (Liechtenstein, The Princely Collections, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, nos. 210 - 217).
A set of eight tapestries from this series, woven by Jan II Raes and Jacob II Geubels remains in the Spanish Royal Collection, while another in the same collection is woven by Katherine van den Eynde (d. 1620), widow of Jacob I Geubels (d. 1605), and is illustrated in P. Junquera de Vega and C, Catalogo de Tapices del Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1986, vol. II, cat. 53, pp. 98 - 103. A tapestry depicting The Dismissal of the Lictors from this series woven by Frans van der Hecke was sold anonymously in these Rooms, 26 November 1996, lot 238, while another illustrating the subject of the offered lot with very similar borders was sold anonymously in these Rooms, 1 October 1998, lot 233. A panel from this series depicting Mars and Rhea Silvia was sold anonymously in these Rooms, 25 March 1999, lot 188.