The subject of the composition appears to be a scene from Roman history, most likely the story of The Continence of Scipio Africanus, a popular subject in the eighteenth century in which the young central figure, Scipio, renounces his claim to a young woman to the surprise of the spectators.
Establishing her reputation in Rome in 1763 with decorative neoclassical scenes from literature, mythology and history, Angelica Kauffman probably painted the present work in Rome or Naples. The most compelling evidence is the signature: her early works are signed with her full name.
A puzzling and unusual feature is the almost nude male figure in the center. Because women artists in the eighteenth century did not have the opportunity to draw from nude models, this figure may have been copied from a drawing or painting by another artist and incorporated into the composition. Nevertheless, the other figures, especially the woman at the left and the old man, are consistent with Kauffman's paintings of this period such as Chryseis Reunited with her Father, Chryse (1764; Wrotham Park).
We are grateful to Professor Wendy Wassying Roworth for her assistance in the above catalogue entry and for confirming the attribution of the present work to the Kauffman from photographs (written communication, 8 May 1998).