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Work The Funeral of Patroclus

Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century

Funérailles de Patrocle

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo F. Raux

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Author(s):
Prat Louis-Antoine

This drawing is a preparatory study for The Funeral of Patroclus, which David painted in Rome in 1778 and is now in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. Executed in Rome during David's first stay in Italy after winning the Prix de Rome in 1774, it is one of the artist's largest drawings.

A Homeric theme

One of the most famous episodes in the Greek siege of Troy, the subject of the Iliad, is the death of Achilles' friend Patroclus, killed by the Trojan prince Hector. To avenge his friend, Achilles kills Hector before himself being struck in the ankle by an arrow shot by Paris. The funeral of Patroclus is for Achilles an occasion to celebrate both the memory of his dead friend and his own victory over Hector. The scene takes place in the Greek camp: Patroclus' body is borne to the pyre as Trojan prisoners are sacrificed in his honor. In the background, one sees the Greek fleet anchored off the coast. Venus and Apollo observe the scene from the heavens.

A long disappearance

In 1779, David sent his painting The Funeral of Patroclus from Rome to Paris, where it soon disappeared, to be rediscovered only in 1972; it was then acquired by the National Gallery of Ireland. In addition to the drawing in the Louvre, another large drawing at the Musée Eugène Boudin in Honfleur is a preparatory work for the painting. In both cases, David had to paste together a number of sheets of paper to have an area large enough to marshal the various groups. In the middle, one sees Achilles holding the naked body of Patroclus; Hector's corpse is still lashed to the victor's chariot.

The continuing influence of the Baroque

During his time in Rome, David gradually threw off the influence of the 17th-century Italian masters, still visible here, to immerse himself in the rigor and "ideal beauty" of antiquity. But in this drawing he shows himself still in thrall to baroque principles of composition: the large number of separate groups producing a scattering of centers of interest; small, contorted figures; and uneven play of light over different areas. The painting itself was already more homogeneous, with the group representing Achilles and Patroclus being placed at the foot of the pyre.

Bibliography

P. Rosenberg, L.-A. Prat, JacquesLouis David 1748-1825 : Catalogue raisonné des dessins, 2002, I, n 28.

Technical description

  • Jacques Louis David (Paris, 1748-Brussels, 1825)

    Seated figure with an animal head

    Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 BC)

  • Hand-modelled terracotta

    H. 8.70 cm; W. 4.10 cm; D. 3.90 cm

  • Gift of R. du Mesnil du Buisson, 1929

    404004

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Bottom right, in ink: David f R