Although Rubio was Italian by birth and had an international career, he is included in this exhibition because of his strong association with the Paris art world and the Salon, where he exhibited from 1831 to 1867. Rubio began his studies in Rome at the Academy of Saint Luke; at a young age he was awarded the premio Canova and was received as a member in 1827. He went briefly to Poland and was, by 1830, in Paris studying with Léon Cogniet. He also lived for twenty years in Geneva and traveled a great deal, to Turkey and Russia, where he painted the portrait of the Tsar. In 1870 he was named professor at the Academy of Beaux Arts of Florence.
This painting represents the tragic lovers from Dante’s Inferno (canto V). It is the moment when Francesca da Rimini who has been reading a romance is interrupted by a kiss from her lover, while her jealous husband looks on. In the next moment he kills them both. Rubio’s painting owes a great compositional debt to Ingres’ many versions of the theme as well as to Coupin de la Couperie’s 1812 painting (purchased by Josephine Bonaparte) and to nineteenth-century engraved illustrations. As in the Ingres, drama is created by the counterpoint between the tenderly embracing couple against a drapery backdrop and the enraged husband entering in the rear, about to draw his sword.
In its highly finished and detailed style, quattrocento-esque spatial construction and coloring, and great sentimental appeal, this picture perpetuates the features of “troubadour” painting of two decades earlier. As attested to by the numerous later versions Ingres did of his Paolo and Francesca, the popularity of this style and the fascination with modern literary classics did not diminish throughout the Romantic period.