Design for a frontispiece
  • Charles Percier
  • Paris 1764 - 1838
  • Design for a frontispiece, before 1798
  • Watercolour over pen and black ink
  • entitled above by the artist with brush and ink: PALAIS ET MAISONS / DE ROME, / XII.e CAHIER.,
    on paper, on an old mount
  • 275 × 213 mm
Cheng Huan (alias Yap Cheng Hock), as a present to Sir Francis Watson, London (1907-1992)
his estate (until 2014)

Together with Pierre Fontaine (1762-1853), Charles Percier created and edited in 1798 in Paris a multi-volume, plate-filled book of art in Rome, which was incredibly influential for the fashion of the time: Palais, Maisons, et autres édifices modernes dessinés à Rome. The present sheet was designed for this project, and appears there as Plate 68.

As with a number of his designs, Percier created at least a second version of this capriccio, but with changes in the format (405 x 290 mm), the colour scheme, and the casting of shadows1.

As the title promises, the elements represented here arose not from the artist’s fantasy, but are for the most part identifiable. To give one example, the so-called Albani crater vase from the Capitoline Museum’s collection is presented in the front left. In 1796 Percier had already selected this vase as an impressive focal point for the representation of an imaginary museum2.

Percier discovered both of the capitals in the foreground, each from ancient basilicas in Rome, in an etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)3.

The original version of the antique frieze featuring a centauromachy above the central bust in this representation is found integrated into the façade of the inner courtyard of the famous Palazzo Spada in Rome; from 1635, Francesco Borromini was responsible for its outer design.

  1. Sotheby’s, Paris, June 23rd, 2004, lot 42 (ill.)
  2. Compiègne: Musée Antoine Vivenel, inv. no. 5703
  3. G.B. Piranesi: Della magnificenza ed architettura dei Romani, 1761, XX: les chapiteaux Ioniques qu ?on voit à Rome