The message of the picture was once identified by an old Latin inscription translated as: 'The wise man seeks out the wisdom of the Ancients and has leisure for the prophets'. Here the wisdom of the Ancients appears to be represented by the philosopher-king Numa. The King is dressed in a style contemporary with the date the work was painted, with a fleu-de-lys crown (possibly emblematic of Henri III, who returned via Venice from the throne of Poland to that of France in 1574). Numa is presiding over the Augurs foretelling the future from the flight of birds.
Numa Pompilius was the legendary second King of Rome (successor to Romulus) reigning between 715 BC–673 BC. He was credited with the foundation of the Roman religious system and the reform of the Roman calendar. It was said he was inspired with wise advice from his lover, the water-nymph Egeria.
The painting was taken off the ceiling of the Palazzo Capello a San Felice in Venice and, acquired by William Bankes (1786–1855) in 1849, was intended for the ceiling of the Library of Kingston Lacy. The work was once attributed to 'Bonifacio' and is now known to be by Antonio Palma, who was a pupil of Bonifazio de'Pitati and father of Palma Giovane.
Where to see this painting?
National Trust, Kingston Lacy
Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England, BH21 4EA
If you are planning a visit to see this painting, check with the collection first. Paintings can be moved at short notice.