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Publius Horatius Cocles Leads the Romans in Battle against the Etruscans. Black chalk. 51 x 69 cm. Signed in pen and brown ink: T. Minardi disegnò. Ca. 1810–15.
In 1803, after completing his apprenticeship under Giuseppe Zauli, the painter Tommaso Minardi, a native of Emilia, continued his training as an artist in Rome, where he moved in the circle around Felice Giani and Vincenzo Camuccini. At this stage of his creative career his style was strongly influenced by Roman Neoclassicism, as the present large-format drawing impressively confirms. Later, under the influence of the Nazarenes, Minardi was to become a champion of what was known as Purismo, an art trend inspired by the Italian painting of the Trecento and propelled by opposition to the Classical tradition which reached back as far as Raphael. Minardi’s long and varied career thus mirrors the antagonisms that dominated European painting between 1800 and 1850.
This drawing from the artist’s early period reproduces a lost painting by Vincenzo Camuccini that was commissioned around 1810 by Manuel Godoy, a confidant of King Charles IV of Spain. It shows a famous episode from the early history of Rome, whose protagonist is the legendary hero Horatius Cocles, a scion of the Horatii family. When the Etruscan army under Lars Porsena advanced on Rome, he succeeded in holding the numerically superior foe in check while the wooden bridge that led across the Tiber to Rome was demolished behind him. The drawing is executed in a detailed and refined technique largely inspired by the style of Camuccini. Subtle chiaroscuro contrasts are obtained by varying the pressure on the chalk; in some places the chalk has been moistened with the brush to achieve soft, tonal transitions, which lend the work additional appeal. The precision of the cross-hatching patterns and the smooth, highly finished style of drawing suggest that Minardi’s drawing served as a model for the engraving by Domenico Marchetti (1780 – after 1844) (see exhibition catalogue Vincenzo Camuccini (1771–1844). Bozzetti e disegni dallo studio dell’artista, Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, 1978. pp. 44–45).