The Crucifixion of Polycrates of Samos, c. 1662
Etching and drypoint
The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund P.74.4
Not on View
Salvator Rosa's impressively large etching presents the dramatic interpretation of the murder of Polycrates, the sixth-century B.C. tyrant (sole ruler) of the Aegean island of Samos. Notorious for political ambition and piracy during his reign, he consolidated his authority by murdering his two brothers, who shared his power. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Polycrates was also known for enjoying good luck in life. His luck ran out in 522 B.C., when Oroetes, the Persian satrap (governor) of Sardis, lured Polycrates with false promises of riches and murdered him in cold blood. Though Herodotus's account does not mention a means of death, Rosa's depiction shows the tyrant suffering the indignity of crucifixion, surrounded by crowd of curious onlookers.
The inscription beneath the print reads: "Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos, famous for his wealth and good fortune, when he was captured by Oroetes, Satrap of the Persians, and fastened on a cross showed that no one can truly be said to be happy until he is dead."
Image: Public Domain. The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund