Félix Duban
Composition of Antiques

Composition of Antiques: Interior of an Etruscan Tomb
Félix Duban (1798-1870)
Composition of Antiques: Interior of an Etruscan Tomb
1829
Pen and watercolour
H. 18.5; W. 16 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR

Composition d'antiques : intérieur d'un tombeau étrusque[Composition of Antiques: Interior of an Etruscan Tomb]


In the first half of the nineteenth century, the recent discovery of some of the finest painted Etruscan tombs fired the imagination of students at the Academy of France in Rome. Félix Duban was among them. Winner of the Grand Prix for architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1823, he lived in the Villa Medici for five years. The young architect met other architects there, Léon Vaudoyer, Joseph-Louis Duc and the Labrouste brothers, Henri and Théodore. If Henri Labrouste was nicknamed ‘the Etruscan', Duban was known as ‘the Pompeiian'.

This fantasy is a free interpretation of the tomb of Biges at Tarquinia in Lazio. It is not clear whether Duban was able to visit the tomb during his stay in Tuscany in 1827, because it was closed until 1829. It is possible that he copied drawings by Henri Labrouste and used them for this imaginative composition.
He has used the frieze which decorates the walls of the tomb. In it we can see male and female dancers, athletes and one of the blue horses that so irritated Viollet-le-Duc. One day, in conversation with the architect Prosper Morey (1805-1886) Viollet-le-Duc exclaimed: "Are you for Etruscan architecture? Blue horses on a red ground!"

Duban collected drawings of Etruscan or similar objects he saw in museums: vases, altars, urns decorated with reliefs, a sarcophagus, a column from another tomb. As always in his work, the colour is heightened by the play of light and shade. This drawing testifies to a particular moment in archaeological and architectural history, to the taste for a mysterious Etruria which suited Felix Duban's enquiring mind and romantic nature very well.




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