A pair of Red Chalk Drawings by Giovanni Battista Cipriani, R.A.
One depicting the Emperor Trajan with a Roman Centurion
and the other representing a Study of a Roman Imperial Guard looking to the right,
Circa mid-18th century,
Red conté crayon on cream laid paper,
Pencil attributions to G.B. Cipriani, in lower right corners
Each sheet approximately 27 x 20.5 cm (6 ¾ x 8 1/8 in.)
Collection of Joseph Wilton, R.A. (1722-1803), London
Sir Bruce Ingram (1877-1963), London
Sabin Galleries, London
These two masterfully executed drawings, dating from the mid-18th century, were taken from the sketchbooks of the celebrated Italian artist Giambattista Cipriani, RA (1727-1785). Both of the drawings are based on scenes depicted in the reliefs of the monumental Roman Column of Trajan, which was erected in 113 A.D. at Trajan’s Forum in Rome to commemorate the emperor Trajan’s victories in the Dacian Wars.
In fact, the first drawing (left) portrays the emperor himself. The original scene shows the Trajan, accompanied by a group of his officers, congratulating or encouraging one soldier from a group of Roman legionnaires tasked with the construction of a fortified encampment to protect the Roman troops from the Dacians.
The figure in the second drawing (right) is taken from the subsequent scene on the Column. It depicts how a Dacian prisoner, firmly held by his long savage hair by a Roman soldier, is brought before the emperor. The particular Roman soldier drawn by Cipriani represents one of the imperial body guards, who accompanied the emperor and can be seen attentively looking on as Trajan confronts the Dacian captive.
Numerous artists and antiquarians have sketched scenes from the reliefs of the Column of Trajan starting from the late 15th century onwards up until the present day, creating images that have had a considerable impact on art in different media. One of the early systematic treatments of the Column was published in 1576 by Alfonso Chacón and was accompanied by a set of 130 detailed plates by Francesco Villamena illustrating the Column’s frieze. Nearly a century later, in 1672, Pietro Santi Bartoli published what would become the most influential set of engravings depicting the Column.
The sketches and engravings of the Column by Bartoli and those by later artists, such as the ones made in the 18th century by Percier and Piranesi were free renderings, not exact, archeologically sound recordings of the Column. As such they tended to incorporate numerous elements of contemporary artistic style. Bartoli for example depicted the frieze horizontally rather than helically, and many of the details were given a Baroque makeover.
The present drawings also date to the mid-18th century and they are fine representatives of the very rich artistic tradition of drawings and engravings that took inspiration from the Column that lasted until well into the 20th century.
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