During the excavations at Pompeii in the early 19th century, the skeleton of a soldier in full armour was discovered. Romantic historians of the period assumed that he had remained loyally at his post while all the other inhabitants of Pompeii were fleeing from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Poynter has painted a night scene with the sentry standing in an entrance sharply and theatrically illuminated by the glare of the eruption at which he is staring with detached concern. By contrast behind him others are desperately struggling to escape the encroaching flames. This became one of the most famous Victorian paintings; the theme of absolute devotion to duty and of total obedience to orders by a military elite had a special appeal to late Victorian imperialist Britain. Poynter’s command of the demanding technicalities of violent lighting effects is also remarkable.