The man with the plumed helmet on the left of this painting is the Roman consul or burgomaster Gaius Fabritius Luscinus. He is standing beside an angry-looking King Pyrrhus of Epirus, wearing a crowned turban. Pyrrhus has tried to bribe Fabritius but this has failed. He is now attempting to frighten the Roman by confronting him with an elephant. Fabritius has just moved a tent flap aside and seen the elephant. The figures in the foreground are terrified. A soldier flees, children tumble downstairs in panic and another soldier cowers behind his shield, while a Dalmatian dog creeps between his legs. As befits a Roman consul, however, Fabritius stands his ground and refuses to be intimidated by the menacing animal. The man on the far right, in the red mantle, is what is called a rugfiguur – a rear-facing repoussoir figure who directs the viewer’s gaze into the painting. Bol adopted this stylistic device from Rembrandt, under whom he studied. Rembrandt uses a similar figure with his hands clasped behind his back.
As the leading city of the Dutch Republic, Amsterdam saw itself as the successor to the Roman Republic (509 - 31 BC). During the republican period, Rome was ruled by consuls (more or less the equivalent of the Dutch burgomasters). The burgomasters of Amsterdam identified with the Roman consuls and aspired to be as steadfast under pressure as Fabritius.