cornelia mother of the gracchi

Ems: Never-Ending-List-of-Kick-Arse-Women-Throughout-History

                       Cornelia Scipionis Africana, Mother of the Gracchi




Location: Rome

Time: Republic

Parents: Scipio Africanus, Aemilia Tertia

Children: Gaius Gracchus, Tiberius Gracchus & Sempronia

Spouse: Tiberius Gracious the Elder

Achievements: The example of the pious Roman Matron, a marble statue was erected of her after her death, devoted mother (when asked why she wore no jewellery by another woman, she scooped up her sons and said “these are my jewels”), active in politics (through the careers of her sons), studied literature and languages, entertained visiting philosophers to Rome

In honour of Mother’s Day, here is one of my favourite portraits of a mother and her children!

It was painted in 1787 by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Marie Antoinette’s official portraitist. It was intended to help restore the Queen’s damaged reputation following the infamous “Affair of the Necklace”, depicting her as the mother of the Children of France. She wears no necklace and her large jewel cabinet is closed behind her, her only jewellery a simple bracelet and earrings. It has echoes of the story of Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, who presented her children when asked to present her true treasures. Louis XVI himself was very pleased with it and praised Madame Le Brun for the portrait. She wrote in her memoirs that he said to her “I know nothing about painting, but you make me like it.”

It originally depicted her with all four of her children, but her youngest daughter, Princess Sophie, died before the portrait was completed. She was originally portrayed lying in the cradle but was painted out after her death, leaving her elder brother Louis Joseph pointing at the empty space she’d occupied, a poignant reminder of the loss of the little girl. After Louis Joseph himself died in 1789, Marie Antoinette could no longer go through the room containing the portrait without crying, and asked for it to be taken away. Madame Lebrun would later write that she was convinced it was due to this request by the Queen that the portrait was preserved, as she was certain the mob who attacked Versailles would have destroyed it.

The portrait is currently on display at the Palace of Versailles once again, in the Antichambre du Grand Couvert, part of the Queen’s Apartments.

Top 10 Historical Figures Meme

I was tagged by sansaqueensansa

  1. Nefertiti 

    I mean, who couldn’t love her?! She was smart, pretty and politically switched on.  I wish that Post Amarna kings didn’t absolutely destroy Akhetaten and we knew more about her.
  2. Cleopatra 

     This woman is like the reason I love history; she was strong, powerful and mysterious.  She could speak several languages and was well versed in most fields of academia of the time, plus she owned the library of Alexandria
  3. Anne Boleyn

  4. Richard III

    WHY DID YOU HAVE TO DIE TOO?! Poor thing was absolutely heaped with slander and misunderstood.
  5. William Shakespeare                                                           

                                                                                         Well I don’t agree with some of the stuff he has written *cough* Richard III and Antony and Cleopatra *cough* but most of it is pretty entertaining, I always looked forward to my shakespeare units at school
  6. Ahhotep

      I whole heartedly, based on the evidence believe Ahhotep was involved in the Army and ran the country as her sons regent.  Her son would go on to liberate Egypt from the Hyksos and be the founder of the 18th Dynasty…
  7. Anne Neville                              

    The Historical figures I love are also the obscure and forgotten, where so little information is known about them.  There is something more exciting and mysterious about them.
  8. Tetisheri                                                                     

    Ahhotep would not have been the hella strong woman she was without the influence of her mother, the matriarch of the New Kingdom.
  9. Agrippina the Younger                   

    How many assassination attempts can one woman survive?! and from her own son too? I real pity her in the sense that her brother Caligula manipulated her, to the point where I think she became a paranoid wreck, he turned her into the Cersi Lannister-esque character she became
  10. Cornelia Mother of the Gracchi

    The ultimate Roman Matron and mother who had to live through the assassination of the only two of her sons who survived to adulthoods assassination.

I tag gnosister thebackstreetshistorian tiny-librarian aboringhistoryteacher tiye meketaten timeladywithhertardis blahblah369 and anyone who wants to give it a go ;)

Angelica Kauffmann, Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, 1785

The scene takes place in the second century BCE in the republican era of Rome. A visitor shows Cornelia her jewels and then requests to see those of her hostess. In response, Cornelia shows her daughter and two sons and responds that her children are her most precious jewels. Cornelia depicts the good mother, a popular subject among eighteenth-century history painters who, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, depict subjects who teach the viewer about virtue. Her sons, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus become powerful political reformers in their adulthood (Marilyn Stokstad, Art History, Volume Two. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2008, 965-66).


Cornelia was the younger daughter of Scipio Africanus (the defeater of Hannibal) and Aemilia and born in the late 190’s.  She married Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus who, after twelve children together died in 153.  Of these twelve children Cornelia and Tiberius had, only three reached maturity; Tiberius, a reforming tribute of 133 who was assassinated, Gaius, who tried to be more systematic than his brother but was also assassinated and a daughter Sempronia , who married Scipio Aemilianus.  She remained faithful to the memory of her husband long after his death, turning down proposals even from Ptolemy the Pharaoh of Egypt and remained independent and self-assured even as a widow.  Cornelia was a recognized writer, her letters being published and seen by many, including Cicero.

Cornelia is a woman who lived through the assassination of her two grown sons and later when she spoke of them in her villa in Miseum, Naples (Where she often entertained many friends, foreigners such as visiting Greeks and literary personalities and often exchanged gifts with reigning kings.) she showed no signs of Grief (Plutarch put this down to her noble nature) and often compared them to the figures of Early Rome.  She is said to have stated that the temple her sons died in was a fitting tomb for such occupants adding that having been the Mother of the Gracchi she could never count herself as unfortunate.

A public statue of Cornelia was erected, voted on not by the senate but the common people for whose rights her sons fought for.  The statue portrays a seated Cornelia in Bronze, a marble base and commemorates her links to her famous male relatives, namely her sons and father.