Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
The trophy of Marius: front view
The drawing comes from the ‘paper museum’ of Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657), one of the great collectors of seventeenth-century Rome, not so much for the magnificence of his collection (though he was Poussin’s most important patron) but for its range. He commissioned and collected many thousands of drawings and prints to form a visual encyclopedia, prinicipally of antiquities and natural history. After Cassiano’s death his younger brother Carlo Antonio (1606-89) continued to add to the ‘paper museum’, but the dal Pozzo library, including the volumes of drawings, was sold by Carlo Antonio’s grandson to Clement XI in 1703. As the Vatican library was unable to find the necessary funds, the Pope’s nephew - Cardinal Alessandro Albani - took over the purchase by 1714. George III acquired the bulk of the dal Pozzo library with the rest of the Albani collection in 1762, but it suffered depredations both before and after this time, and only about half of the dal Pozzo drawings now remain together in the Royal Collection. The equally extensive collection of prints in the ‘paper museum’ suffered even more. Many of the albums were broken up and dispersed within George III’s library, and only recently have a few intact volumes of prints been identified, mostly among the King’s Library in the British Library.
The present drawing is one of the finest of the antiquarian sheets from Cassiano’s collection. It shows the front of the so-called Trophy of Marius, one of a pair known in Rome since the Middle Ages and moved in 1590 to the Capitoline Hill, where they still stand. The attribution of the drawing remains controversial, though the facial type of the central figure and the technique support an attribution to Pietro da Cortona during the later 1620s, when he was emerging as one of the leading painters in Rome under the patronage of the Sacchetti and of Cassiano’s employers, the Barberini.
Catalogue entry adapted from George III & Queen Charlotte: Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste, London, 2004