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One of the most important series of paintings executed for the Buen Retiro Palace was the Ancient Rome cycle, which comprised at least thirty-four pictures. The guidelines for the paintings were established by the circle of the Count-Duke of Olivares, and the commissions were coordinated by the Marquis of Castel Rodrigo, ambassador to Rome, and Olivares's brother-in-law the Count of Monterrey, Viceroy of Naples.

The painters chosen by them included a broad representation of the most prominent artists active in Rome and Naples in the 1630s: Ribera, Poussin, Lanfranco, Domenichino, Finoglia, Romanelli and Stanzione, among others.

At least three different series have been identified. The first portrays Roman public entertainments-including athletes, gladiators, chariot races, animal fights and mock sea battles-and was designed to establish a link between the recreational uses of the Retiro Palace and ancient practices. A second group depicted scenes from mythology and ancient history, with themes relating to Bacchus and the Lupercalia festivities. A third series dealt with significant moments in the public life of an emperor: military victory, the highest expression of his authority, and the funus or ceremonies associated with his death.

Some of these works are on display for the first time and have been restored for this exhibition.

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