What is this? Who is that burly guy and why is he carrying an old man?
The burly guy is Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome; and he’s caring his dad, Anchises. They are getting out of Troy, their home, as fast as they can because the city is on fire.
The little boy is Aeneas’ son, Ascanius.
What’s the old man carrying?
Those are the penates, the home-gods that watch over you. Every household had some in a niche in the hall. They were what you grabbed to take with you when you could take only one thing. They would protect you and your family.
Who made the statue?
Gian Lorenzo Bernini. He carved it in 1619, when he was only twenty. It is in the Galleria Borghese, Rome.
But what is the story?
It is a side-story in the Trojan War legend, the subject of the Illiad, Homer’s great epic poem. The Greeks all knew this and many other stories from that idealized history of their country. The Greek version of this one ended with the flight of Aeneas, a prince of Troy, and his family.
Aeneas and his father as depicted on a Greek vase
When Rome was inventing its own history years later and looking for a founder, it took up this Aeneas thread. Roman historians thought they couldn’t do better than the old Greek legends. Monkeying the story of Ulysses, who after the Trojan War was kept wandering around the world because of the curse of an angry god, they said Aeneas and his family were made to wander around the Mediterranean after leaving Troy because of the curse of an angry goddess. The hero was not able to settle down until, after years, he reached Latium, the place that would become Rome. Anchises died along the way. Aeneas’s wife did too. Eventually Aeneas became king of the Latins and married a local princess.
Aeneas’ flight from Troy with his father on his shoulders was always a hard one to depict with grace.
Here is a version by Carle Van Loo:
Aeneas is carrying the old man and really struggling with the weight.
Barocci’s painting is wonderful illustration of the whole scene: