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.


  • Title: Faithful Unto Death
  • Creator: Edward John Poynter
  • Creator Lifespan: 1836/1919
  • Creator Nationality: British
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: London, England
  • Creator Birth Place: Paris, France
  • Date Created: 1865
  • tag / style: Rome; soldier; Mount Vesuvius; volcano; sentry; army; imperial; fire; lava; Faithful Unto Death; theatrical; Victorian; Edward John Poynter; loyalty; flames
  • subject: Pompei, Italy
  • Physical Dimensions: w755 x h1150 cm (Without frame)
  • Artist biographical information: The British painter Edward John Poynter was born in Paris in 1836, the son of Ambrose Poynter, an architect and watercolour painter. Poynter studied in London and in Paris and first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1861. He was knighted in 1896 and in 1894 was appointed Director of the National Gallery.
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Presented by Charles Langton in 1874

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