1504 Cremona 1546

Marcus Curtius Leaping into the Chasm, watched by comrades and elders

black chalk underdrawing, pen & brown ink & wash. 35/8 x 57/8" (92 x 149 mm).

The subject of this drawing was kindly identified by Prof. Creighton Gilbert. Legend has it that Curtius heroically flung himself and his horse into an abyss in order to save Rome. Destruction of the city had been foretold by the soothsayers unless what constituted Rome's greatest force was thrown into the chasm which had appeared in the Forum.1

Despite the gravity of the story, the present depiction of this sacrificial event is light and charming. The design was intended for the compartment of a frieze, which would decorate the walls of a salone immediately below the ceiling. It reveals knowledge of the fresco decorations of Nicolo dell'Abbate, in Palazzo Poggi, Bologna, for example, where swags and garlands of fruit border the narrative friezes.

Haskell & Penny, Taste and the Antique, New Haven, 1981, p. 192.