Eugène Viollet-le-Duc
Trajan's Column in Rome

Trajan's Column in Rome, bas-relief on the principal face of the pedestal
Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879)
Trajan's Column in Rome, bas-relief on the principal face of the pedestal
Graphite on paper
H. 48; W. 85,4 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Colonne Trajane à Rome, bas-relief de la face principale du piédestal [Trajan's Column in Rome, bas-relief on the principal face of the pedestal]

The astonishing Trajan Column in Rome, erected in 113 AD by the Emperor Trajan (53-117) to commemorate his victories against the Dacians, was of particular interest to architects. Charles Percier put forward a restoration project for it in 1789, Henri Labrouste – then a student at the Villa Medici – made a record drawing of it for his second year submission in 1826, André Marie Chatillon a study of it in 1913... Moreover, it had played a key role in creating a sense of French national identity, having served as a model for the Vendôme Column (1805-1810) erected by Napoleon I to the glory of his victorious armies.

Viollet-le-Duc rarely praised Roman art, which he considered to be an impure derivative of Greek art. However he made exceptions for some edifices, notably the Trajan Column, precisely because it made a break with Greek heritage and seemed truly to reflect the Roman character. In his book Conversations about Architecture (1863-1872), he noted how this grand commemorative gesture revealed, in his view, "the mark of the political and administrative genius of the Romans", as well as "ideas of order and method and the perfect expression of a dominant people".

This very precise record drawing is evidence of the admiration Viollet-le-Duc had retained for this edifice since his youth. Here we see the main face of the pedestal. The inscription framed by two winged figures explains that the height of the column (30m) corresponds to the original level of the ground between the Quirinal and the Capitoline hills, before this area was excavated to build the Forum.

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