San Sebastiano Curone 1758 – Rome 1823
Architectural caprice with revolutionary allegories
Pen and brown ink, brown wash
Inscribed Felice Giani Pittore lower right
378 x 512 mm – 14 7/8 x 20 1/8 in.
A strange atmosphere reigns over this imaginary square, a revolutionary fantasy, distant and subdued inheritor of Piranesi’s caprices. Some men are strolling at the feet of spectacular and colossal allegorical monuments to the glory of the Revolution. The present drawing can be compared to the projects that Giani conceived during the short-lived Repubblica Romana that was proclaimed on 15 February 1798 by general Berthier in the climate of generalised indifference and hostility. The French troops had managed to keep control of Rome, in spite of several victories of Ferdinand IV’s Neapolitan forces, until they gradually disengaged over 1799 as Napoleon harboured other ambitions for Italy.
A convinced revolutionary, Giani put his talent to the service of the Repubblica Romana without any hesitation. He greatly admired Napoleon Bonaparte and was invited to Paris circa 1812-1813 to decorate several halls in the Tuileries and the Malmaison.
An Allegory is seated on the left, her right hand holding a fasces, her left hand a pike surmounted by a Phrygian cap. This figure may be the personification of the Revolutionary Justice or simply the Roman Republic. She dominates over two other statues that seem to be Neptune and Ceres, both holding Mercury’s caduceus. They represent Sea and Earth, two main components of Roman prosperity and commerce that are now assembled under the protection of the Roman Republic and its new justice. On the right, the Roman Republic seems to be greeted and crowned by an Allegory, that is herself crowned with a tower, the symbol of Rome.
Although Giani participated in many other projects connected with the history of the Revolution and Napoleonic Italy (for example, Foro Milano), the use of the Phrygian cap seems to allow us to date this project to its relatively early phase. The red cap was very widely used as a symbol of freedom during the Revolution, but less after Robespierre’s death as it evoked memories of his Reign of Terror. Napoleon Bonaparte completely abandoned it and preferred using other symbols, such as the eagle or Roman emblems, which were better suited to represent his imperial ambitions.
Raised on the end of a spear, the Phrygian cap becomes one of the most emblematic motifs of the Revolution; it is therefore logical to find it in a design related to the Roman Republic. It also appears in some drawings by Giani in the Museo Napoleonico in Rome, which are designs for official headed paper of the new Legislative assembly called Tribunato (see Marco Pupillo, “Felice Giani e la Repubblica Romana: i disegni del Museo Napoleonico” in Felice Giani 1813 Vedute di Villa Aldini a Montmoreny, Museo Napoleonico, Rome, 11 April – 21 July 2013, exhibition catalogue p. 60-63, fig. 4,5,6, illustrated).
It is not certain that Doric temples in the background can be identified. They seem to be the fruit of architectural fantasy of the artist and emphasise the utopic character of the vision, which is further accentuated by the small figures wandering between disproportionate pedestals. Who are they? Two of them seem to be drawing, the third is reading, the fourth is thinking. Perhaps they symbolise those idealistic artists and intellectuals who supported the Roman Republic.
Condition report – Good condition – Laid down on an old mount. Very slight traces of humidity on the upper and lower right edge.