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Work The Trojan Horse

Department of Prints and Drawings: 19th century

Le cheval de Troie

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Urtado

Prints and Drawings
19th century

Marescalchi Consuelo

A pen and brown ink drawing of the Trojan horse, a theme from Virgil's Aeneid, this work is no doubt one of Girodet's most astonishing sheets because of its vigor and verve. Pen drawing is in fact the real subject of the drawing, vibrant with energy; in it, Girodet gave new impetus to line drawing.

Hidden intruders

This drawing in pen and brown ink shows the Greek invaders within the city of Troy, a scene recounted by Virgil in the Aeneid. The wooden horse built by Epeos (whose name is written on the animal's left leg) has been dragged into the city and the Greeks are starting to emerge from their hiding place. The last warriors are coming out of the horse's neck, marked with the Athenian owl to identify the attackers.

Classicism assumes a somber tone

Neoclassicism's favorite poet was Homer, who was very popular in the late 18th century. But about 1800, he was supplanted by Virgil, whose Collected Works were published by Didot in 1798. As illustrators, the publisher chose young artists recommended by David, including Girodet, who made a distinguished contribution to the work. In shifting from Homer to Virgil, from the Greek epic to the Latin poem, classicism assumed a more somber tone: the Aeneid is above all the saga of the defeated. This funereal liturgy, which was easy for people to identify with during the Revolution, is a stately dirge of sound and fury which culminates in the fall of Troy.

The violation of the palace

The artist shows the episode from the Trojans' point of view. He sets the scene between two strong columns decorated with trophies and linked with garlands (an allusion to the festive reception given to the horse). The architecture in the foreground, perhaps Priam's palace, which a Greek on a ladder is trying to break into, symbolically suggests the transgression of the threshold: the enemies have entered the impregnable city. Better still, the framework indicates a point of view, deliberately choosing the Trojan side. The scene is described from their ramparts. It is thus not by chance that the artist has depicted the dozing, useless guards, a pathetic metaphor of the destiny of the defeated. Girodet gives new impetus to line drawing: in his hand, line conveys life rather than an idea; it is the vector of movement used to render the turmoil of the scene and the feverishness of the attack. His capricious, twisting, mercurial line floods the page with energy, seeking less to illustrate than to translate the event, focusing on the effect rather than the idea.


Bernier G., Anne-Louis Girodet, 1767-1824, Prix de Rome 1789, Paris, Bruxelles, 1975, pp. 177-178, repr.
Bonnefoit Régine, in Largesse, Exposition, Paris, musée du Louvre, 20 janvier-18 avril 1994, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1994, n 38.
Boucher H., "Girodet illustrateur. A propos des dessins inédits de l'Énéide", in Gazette des beaux-arts, novembre 1930, pp. 304-319.
Michel Régis, Le Beau idéal ou l'art du concept, Exposition, Paris, Cabinet des dessins, musée du Louvre, 17 octobre-31 décembre 1989, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1989, pp. 67-69, 153, n 40, repr.

Technical description

  • Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (Montargis, 1767-Paris, 1824)

    The Trojan Horse

    Between 1810-11 and 1824

  • Pen and brown ink, and brown wash

    H. 36.9 cm; W. 32 cm

  • A. C. Pannetier collection; La Bordes collection; sale, Paris, 15 April 1867, no. 23; Firmin-Didot family; sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 17 November 1971, no. 15; purchase by the Louvre at that sale

    RF 34732

  • 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

Greek annotations in pen: "Atenaios" (on the horse's neck) and "Epeos" (on the left leg)