Persian Envoys before the King of Ethiopia

Franciszek Smuglewiczafter 1785

Lithuanian National Museum of Art

Lithuanian National Museum of Art
Vilnius, Lithuania

When painting pictures featuring subject matter from Antiquity, P. Smuglevičius drew inspiration from works by ancient authors (Herodotus, Plutarch, Homer, Virgil), giving his story lines a philosophical moralizing subtext that was in line with the educational spirit of Classicism. His illustrations of episodes taken from the essays of Herodotus include two scenes where envoys are being received, which are an analogy for the right of nations to independence and their right to fight for independence.

In this reception scene, he has depicted the envoys of the Persian king Cambyses (529-522 BC) who devised to attack Ethiopia, visiting the Ethiopian king beforehand with gifts: a purple mantle, a gold chain and pin, an alabaster box containing balsam and amphorae of wine. The king of Ethiopia, wise of their cunning advances, presents the envoys with a bow and orders it be given to the Persian king, suggesting he only resolve to march upon the Ethiopians with his army when they are capable of drawing such mighty bows. Until they are able to do so, better the Persians thank the gods that they have not planted amongst the sons of Ethiopia the idea of joining foreign lands to their own.

In the composition by P. Smuglevičius we see the bow when it is already in the hands of the Persian envoy. The Ethiopian king, ignoring the gifts piled at his feet, drives his guests away with a thrust of his hand. The Eastern flavour of the actors’ attire, the exotic faces and opulent gifts create a truly colourful Baroque-laden image.


  • Title: Persian Envoys before the King of Ethiopia
  • Creator: Pranciškus Smuglevičius (Franciszek Smuglewicz)
  • Creator Lifespan: 1745 - 1807
  • Creator Nationality: Lithuanian
  • Creator Gender: male
  • Creator Death Place: Vilnius
  • Creator Birth Place: Warsaw
  • Date: after 1785
  • Physical Dimensions: w184 x h145 cm
  • Type: Paintings
  • External Link: Lithuanian Art Museum

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