Sheet of Studies for the "Justice of Trajan"


Eugène Delacroix ( French, 1798 - 1863 )

c. 1840
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General Description

Exhibited at the Salon of 1840 and currently in the collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, the monumental painting The Justice of Trajan (La Justice de Trajan), inspired by Canto X of Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio (from The Divine Comedy), was the subject of several dozen preparatory drawings, the largest of which rehearse the composition as a whole. Some studies of details exist, including this example, whose three main motifs concern the young man seen from behind in the right foreground of the painting. The strong modelling of the muscular back shows Delacroix's interest in classical sculpture as an artistic source and carries the painterly, expressive graphic effects that characterize Delacroix's romantic style.

Delacroix drew variants of his headdress with its characteristic headband. The feminine head and the hand seem to belong to two less prominent and somewhat overshadowed figures at the center of the composition. “I thought of putting a group of people climbing on columns,” Delacroix wrote to Frédéric Villot while in the throes of composing his painting. [1] As a result, the figures observe the scene from between the columns.

[1] Delacroix to Villot, November 4, 1839, Correspondance générale d'Eugène Delacroix (Paris: Plon, 1937–45).

Adapted from

Louis-Antoine Prat, in Mind's Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne, eds. Olivier Meslay and William B. Jordan (Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 2014) 40.

Fun Facts

  • The scene shown in the completed painting shows the Emperor Trajan on horseback, leading his army to war. His steed rears back when he encounters a widow kneeling in the path. She was demanding justice for the death of her son, who, according to the legend, was trampled by a horse belonging to Trajan's son.

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