Columns of Trajan and Antoninus Pius

 

Wilhelm Hopfgarten (1779-1860) and Ludwig Jollage (1781-1837) (attributed)

 

Pair of miniatures in patinated, engraved and gilded bronze : The Columns of Trajan and Antoninus Pius

 


Italian work, Rome


First quarter of the 19th century, circa 1820

 


Measurements :

Height : 32”1/16 in.

Diameter of base : 7”5/16 in.

 

Provenance : Comte Henri de Beaumont, Rome

 

 

 

Erected in the Forum of Rome in 113AD by the Emperor Marcus Ulpius Trajanus the Trajan column bears a frieze in bas-relief that spirals around the structure recounting the military victories of Rome against Dacia. Entirely dedicated to the glory of Trajanus it later became his mausoleum when his ashes were interred here. Commissioned by the Senate some decades later the Antoninus Pius column was based on a similar design. It depicts the triumph of the Roman legions of Marcus Aurelius over the Germanic people and still stands today at the heart of the Piazza Colonna in Rome. Admired since antiquity as two of the most beautiful Roman monuments they have over the centuries, like the triumphal Arch of Titus, come to be seen as the symbols of victory and military glory.


The two columns displayed here are thoroughly exact miniature replicas. They are particularly noteworthy for their elegance and their spectacularly fine engravings, especially the central columns where every last detail is faithfully reproduced. At the summit of each stand the emperors exactly as one could have imagined them on their counterparts in Rome before restorations led to the their being replaced by representations of St Peter and St Paul. Dating from the first quarter of the 19th century they reflect the revival of decorative art in Europe as well as the remarkable fascination in all things relating to Antiquity that existed at this time. Following the remarkable archaeological excavations in sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum the middle of the 18th century saw most of Europe adopt an artistic approach that was largely inspired by Antiquity: neo-classicism. Amateurs and connoisseurs alike began collections of both architectural pieces and works inspired by Antiquity.


This new artistic movement led to the rise of what became known as the “Grand Tour” at the beginning of the 17th century. Undertaken for the most part by the more affluent and aristocratic members of English and German society this voyage of cultural discovery could last as long as a year. The intention was to travel through France, Switzerland but most importantly Italy, in order to discover the artistic riches of these countries before culminating the “Tour” in Rome amidst its countless antique jewels. In the earlier part of the 19th century this parade of tourists was mainly composed of scholars and informed amateurs on a search for knowledge and learning as well as rare pieces and reproductions of the more well-known sites and monuments that they duly brought home to their burgeoning collections. 

 

It was in this climate of insatiable interest for all things antique that these columns were forged, engraved, patinated and gilded, most probably for one of the important collectors of the time such as Baron Van Hoorn in France or one of the German princes of Prussia. Wilhelm Hopfgarten (1779-1860) and Benjamin Ludwig Jollage (1781-1837) were two well-known bronze-makers who themselves originated from Prussia. They chose to establish their workshop in The Eternal City and to specialise in the reproduction of antique pieces. They quickly became successful and delivered work for, amongst others, the King of Prussia.

Moreover the famous goldsmith, bronzemaker and sculptor Luigi Valadier (1726-1785) created a Trajan’s column in marble, granit, lapis-lazzuli and silver and gilt bronze circa 1780 now in the Schatzkammer of the Residenz in Munich.

 

Hopfgarten and Jollage executed miniatures of the Trajan and Antoninus Pius columns, three pairs of which are known today :

- The first belongs to the famous collection of the Munich Residenz and is illustrated in H. Ottomeyer and P. Pröschel, Vergoldte Bronzen, Die Bronzearbeiten des Spätbarock une Klassizimus, Volume 1, Munich, 1986, p.310. This pair differs from ours in that it is entirely gilded and it is missing the statues at the top of the columns.

- The second, preserved in the Ambrosienne Library in Milan, was ordered by Giovanni Edoardo de Pecis (illustrated in M. Rossi and A. Rovetta, La Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan, 1997, p. 239). This pair is also entirely gilded and missing its two statuettes.

- The third pair is kept in the Modern Art Gallery at the Pitti Palace in Florence and is very similar with our pair because it is in patinated and gilt bronze and has two statuettes at the top of the columns but differs by the base in white and yellow Breche marble. Moreover, one gilt and chased bronze Trajan’s column is also kept at the Pitti Palace since 1819.


It would therefore seems that the two columns here are the only examples that have been retained in their original state. Furthermore, they set themselves apart from the previously mentioned works by the fact that the minutely-detailed gilt work brings out and enhances the effect of the engravings, and also by the circular pedestal that allows the columns to be entirely swivelled around.

They come from the collection of Comte Henri de Beaumont (1923-2005) who kept them in his apartment in Rome. Dividing his time between France, the United States and Italy, and in the process becoming an acquaintance of Picasso, Braque and Cocteau, the Comte inherited an important collection of paintings and furniture from his uncle Etienne de Beaumont, as well as a refined taste of rare and unusual pieces.