Recognised as by Zanchi, one of the major figures of Venetian seicento painting, by Moschini and Ivanoff (see Riccoboni, op. cit., p. 97), this canvas is dated to circa 1680 by Riccoboni, who notes that the composition 'ripete il tema' of the early Rape of Helen (on the art market in Rome in 1945; see ibid., p. 118), and comments on the picture's 'senso di estrema mobilit' and its 'potente vigore plastico ed intenso effetto chiaroscurale'. While essentially Venetian in spirit, the picture suggests an affinity with Luca Giordano, who had spent six months in Venice in the mid-1680s.
The subject is taken from Tacitus' Annals; Agrippina (A.D. 15-59) was the mother of the Emperor Nero. Having married her uncle, the Emperor Claudius, she persuaded him to adopt Nero, and was popularly believed to have poisoned him to make way for her son. A domineering lady, she attempted to retain her influence over her son after Claudius' death, acting for some time as co-regent with him, a situation (and character) that the Emperor came increasingly to resent. In 59 A.D., he finally resolved to have her murdered, which he attempted through sabotaging a ship that was carrying her. The ship sank, but Agrippina survived, and succeeded in reaching her house; there, however, she was stabbed to death in her bedchamber by a group of armed men led by her ex-slave, Anicetus.