These boldly handled life studies were made by the Austrian painter Anton von Maron for use at Anton Raphael Mengs’s private academy in Rome in 1776. Maron was Mengs’s principal assistant and deputised for Mengs in Rome whilst Mengs was working in Madrid for Charles III of Spain between 1773 and 1777. These previously unpublished, large-scale life drawings are an important addition to Maron’s oeuvre and offer unprecedented evidence of the mechanics of the international Roman art world in the second half of the eighteenth century.
Maron was born in Vienna where he was initially trained, from 1755 he was based in Rome where he lived in Mengs’s house on via Sistina; until 1761 he was Mengs’s pupil and studio assistant. Two joint commissions for frescoes in Rome are known from this period: the ceiling of the church S. Eusebio and the Parnassus at Villa Albani and it seems to have been Maron’s aptitude at working in fresco which enabled Mengs to successfully complete these projects. The two painters remained close and Maron’s mature works show evidence of his debt to Mengs. Maron eventually married Mengs’s sister, Therese Concodia, a successful miniature painter. Mengs’s summons to Madrid in 1761 entailed a fundamental change in Maron’s position as an artist in Rome. He now ran Mengs’s studio, together with the Würzbug court painter Christoph Fesel, and was the agent for Mengs’s affairs in Rome. As a result Maron assumed an important position within the Roman art world, completing a sequence of imposing portraits of British, Austrian and German Grand Tourists and producing a number of historical paintings for travellers. During the 1770s Maron became the official portraitist to the Hapsburg Court in Vienna and in 1772 he was ennobled for his services to the Imperial Court. Maron was also successful within the domestic art market of Rome and his most ambitious project was the completion of a multi-figure mythological cycle based on the story of Aeneas that the artist executed in 1784-85 for the Casino in the Villa Borghese.
By the 1770s the Roman art world was well served by academic and semi-academic institutions; the city itself was one of the centres of artistic education in the world and attracted an international roster of young painters who came to complete their training. These included the Académie de France à Rome and the Accademia di San Luca, along with a series of informal evening drawing academies held by Rome’s leading artists. The Accademia del Disegno – known more usually as the Accademia Capitolina del Nudo – was established under the aegis of the Accademia di San Luca in 1754 by Benedict XIV in a large room below the Pinacoteca Capitolina in the Palazzo dei Conservatori. The direction of the students and model was entrusted to a rotating group of artists appointed by the president, both Mengs and Maron supervised the life drawing exercises. Maron, like Mengs, was also much involved in the organisation of the Accademia di San Luca and was responsible for producing a number of the official portraits of its most members.
By the 1770s young artists of any nationality seeking a private drawing academy in Rome could choose from at least a dozen, the most famous were those run by Pompeo Batoni and Mengs in their own houses. The German painter Johann Gottlieb Puhlmann left a series of descriptions of Batoni’s private academy from the mid-1770s. In a letter of 20 January 1775, Puhlmann described his experience:
‘In our living room we now have an iron brazier, and thus have a warm room when we come home from the academy, where I have the good fortune of sitting to the left of Cavalier Pompeo, who points out my mistakes and is satisfied with my work. I have now drawn ten figures from life and copied twenty-two drawings. The dear man gives us everything that we ask of him, and when the academy has concluded he discourses informally about some aspects of painting.’
There is considerable evidence that Mengs was also keenly interested in teaching and particularly the method of learning from the life model. Some insight into Mengs’s method can be discerned from the large number of drawings he made in the early 1770s that survive. A series of eight drawings preserved in Karlsruhe in the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Graphische Sammlung, seem to have been assembled by Mengs for the purpose of demonstrating the different approaches to the male nude of Michelangelo and Raphael. In addition, as Steffi Roettgen has noted, he endowed these nude studies with different thematic meanings, differentiating between a Herculean and a Bacchic type, and between an Apollonian, an Adonic, and an Antonius-like type.
It is in this pedagogic context that our two studies by Maron should be read. One is prominently signed and dated ‘Romae 1776’ underlining that this was not the work of Maron as a student, but as a celebrated painter who was in charge of Mengs’s private academy in his absence. The sheets are close to Mengs’s mature academy drawings in style and technique: drawn on large sheets of Roman paper in black chalk heightened in white. The setting of the male figure in both sheets recalls those by Mengs at Karlsruhe. Whilst the arrangement of the models also recall famous figures from the work of earlier masters. The signed and dated sheet shows the model seated, with his arms over his head in a pose based upon one of Michelangelo’s ignudi supporting the scene of the Sacrifice of Noah from the Sistine Ceiling. The second figure shows Maron posing the model in the character of the lead executioner from Raphael’s Massacre of the Innocents. The drawings were therefore devised as a pairing of contrasting types, life models animating the works of Michelangelo and Raphael to exemplify their different approaches to the human figure.
These two important drawings join a small group of seven life drawings by Maron which survive in the collection of the Biblioteca civica in Fermo, in Le Marche. But unlike the group at Fermo, which are largely dated to 1772 and derived from drawings by Mengs, these two drawings seem to have been prepared by Maron himself for use by students after Mengs’s departure for Spain. The grand drawings have a pictorial effect which is derived from the emphasis on the musculature and the intensive play of light and shade on the surface, cleverly communicated by the use of black and white chalks. As life drawings, made by Maron at the height of his career, these bold sheets offer important insights into the educational mechanics of private academies in Rome at a moment when a concentration of British and other European artists were present in the city. Rome was a major educational centre for an emerging generation of European neo-classicism, artists as various as Jacques Louis David, Tobias Sergel and Henry Fuseli, all passed through Mengs’s academy and would undoubtedly have seen and been encouraged to copy these sheets.
- For Maron see Isabella Schmittmann, Anton von Maron (1731-1808) Leben und Werk, Munich, 2013 and Antonello Cesareo, Studi su Anton von Maron 2001-2012, Rome, 2014.
- For academies in Rome in this period see Edgar Peters Bowron, ‘Academic Life Drawing in Rome, 1750-1790’, in eds. Richard Campbell and Victor Carlson, Visions of Antiquity: Neoclasscal Figure Drawings, exh. cat., Los Angeles (Los Angeles County Museum), 1993, pp.75-85.
- For Maron and the Accademia di san Luca see Antonello Cesareo, ‘Anton von Maron e l’Accademia di San Luca’ in Studi del Settecento Romano, vol.26, 2010, pp.201-234.
- Quoted in Edgar Peters Bowron and Peter Kerber, Pompeo Batoni: Prince of Painters in Eighteenth-Century Rome, New Haven and London, 2007, p.151.
- Steffi Roettgen, Anton Raphael Mengs 1728-1779, Leben und wirken, Munich, 2003, vol.II, pp.303-311.
- See Isabella Schmittmann, Anton von Maron (1731-1808) Leben und Werk, Munich, 2013, cat. no’s. 115-119, pp.369-373