The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote during the eighteenth century of the importance of education. Rousseau argued that all children are born ‘naturally good’, and that education and experience could cultivate and affirm this natural goodness. It was the responsibility of families and society, Rousseau found, to enable this goodness.
Noël Hallé’s painting illustrates this principle with the help of an image drawn from Roman history. The widow Cornelia, daughter of a great warrior, receives an ostentatiously dressed visitor. In response to the rich fabrics and the precious jewellery of the visitor, Cornelia, referring to her children, asserts ‘These are my jewels.’ Cornelia is the supreme example of the virtuous mother, who places the emotional, intellectual and moral needs of her children above materialism. Note her simple clothing and hair and her inquisitive, upright children; two of them, Tiberius and Gaius, would go on to become great leaders.