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Dancing Maenad. Red chalk drawing. 17 x 18.5 cm.
The drawing, executed in a spirited and fluid style, is a study for a relief medallion that Sergel had made during his first stay in Rome (1767–78). The artist had arrived in the Eternal City in summer 1767 after a lengthy journey with stops in Stralsund, Berlin, Dresden, Vienna, Trieste and Venice, where the sight of the ancient art treasures moved him so deeply that by his own account he was unable to work for four months afterwards. Sergel confessed with surprising self-criticism: "After my arrival in Rome – on 27 August 1767 – I realized that there were no other masters to follow than classical antiquity and nature. I had pro-gressed far enough to see that I could not do anything properly, so I had to start to study anew, just like a child learning its first lessons" (quoted after Werner Hofmann, Johan Tobias Sergel, Kunsthalle Hamburg, 1975, p.140). In Rome, Sergel followed a systematic course of study. His days were spent in drawing – the works of classical antiquity serving as his models – and studying the works of such great Italian predecessors as Raphael and Annibale Carracci, while his evenings were devoted to nude studies.
The present drawing is one of a set of red chalk drawings which were meant as experimental preliminary studies for architectural or sculptural projects and antique reliefs in Rome. Hence they are sculptural drawings in the truest sense of the word. This figure is part of a larger, classical-style dancing maenad relief that Sergel had seen in the Villa Borghese. With vigorous but accurate strokes he has captured the ecstatic pose of the dancing woman, who carries a thyrsus in her right hand and a sacrificial animal in her left. In contrast to his classical model, Sergel has placed the scene in an oval frame, with the figure of the maenad standing out against a background composed of stark, vertical parallel hatchings. The drawing is reproduced in: Ragnar Josephson. Sergels Fantasi. Stockholm 1956, vol. I, p. 63, figs. 55, 56.
Provenance: Johann Gustav Sergel, Sponga Manor, Ärila.