Provenance: Amsterdam, van Regteren-Altena collection
exhibitions: In de ban van Italië: Tekeningen uit een Amsterdamse verzameling, Amsterdam, Amsterdams Historisch Museum, 1995 – catalogue: I. Oud, M. Jonker, M. Schapelhouman (ed. by), In de ban van Italië: Tekeningen uit een Amsterdamse verzameling, Amsterdam, Amsterdams Historisch Museum, 1995, p. 112.
This is a preparatory drawing for the lithography published in Franz de Champagny, Rome dans sa grandeur: vues, monuments anciens et modernes, description, histoire, institutions. Dessins d’après nature par Philippe Benoist et Félix Benoist, Paris, 1870, vol. III, p.11. The Octagonal Courtyard, once known as the ‘Courtyard of Statues’, hosted the first nucleus of the pontifical collections of classic antiques. Pope Julius II della Rovere (1503-1513) had an extraordinary collection of sculptures of the Rome of the Caesars set up in this courtyard, as a tribute to Rome and its popes. Despite the changes undergone during the centuries, some of the sculptures such as the ‘‘Laocoon’’ and the “Apollo of the Belvedere” have been in this courtyard since the first half of the 500’s.
During the second half of the XIX century, with the new conception of public museum, Clemens XIV (1705-1774) and Pius VI (1717-1799) decided to make this courtyard a focal point of the museum visit. The “Pio Clementino” Museum was inaugurated in 1771, and in 1772, the architect Michelangelo Simonetti (1724-1781) designed the portico, characterized by an architrave with a barrel vault and coffered polygonal stucco, supported by 16 columns of red and gray granite with Ionic-order travertine capitals. At the center of each side, it is possible to notice the round arches with triangular pediment endings that includes a marble mask. Following the Treaty of Tolentino (1797), the “Laocoon” and the “Apollo Belvedere” were brought to Paris until 1815. Due to this dispossession, Antonio Canova suggested to close the angular chapels (reopened in 1956).
Philippe Benoist has executed this accurate preparatory sketch from the southern side. In the foreground of this sketch – situated on the stem of a granite column – it is possible to admire a marble disc of the ancient Roman era and the decoration of a lit altar on one of its sides. On the other side of the medallion, which can be found today at the “Pio-Clementino” Museum, a dancing Maenad is depicted. Next to the columns with pilasters, the artist also depicts a small statue of Zeus with the eagle and the stick (late II – beginning III century).
 Cfr. E. G. Massi, Descrizione ristretta dei musei dell’antico nel Palazzo Vaticano: con aggiunta dei musei Gregoriano-etrusco ed Egizio, del Gabinetto de’ monumenti assirj, della galleria degli arazzi di Raffaello, delle sale Borgia e delle carte geografiche d’Italia, Tip.Vaticana, 1903, p. 41 (n. 40); W. Amelung,Die Sculpturen des VaticaniscenMuseums, Berlin, Reimer, 1908, vol.2 (Belvedere)and AA.VV., Museo Pio Clementino, Cortile ottagono, Berlin-New York 1998.
The sarcophagus with a gabled roof and festooned walls depicted in Benoist’s drawing on the bottom right corresponds to the altar dedicated to an unspecified Volusius. It was located in front of the niche containing the set of "Laocoon", as evidenced by an engraving watercolor of Louis-Rodolphe Ducros and Giovanni Volpato. Behind this altar, it is possible to recognize a column bearing a modern era medallion on top, with a naked nymph in relief, who shows her shoulders above a dark background. Beyond this arch it is possible to admire the Roman statue of Atalanta, whose left arm is raised (she originally held a bow) as well as her quiver and hunting boots. On the bottom left, a house-shaped funerary urn of O. Vitellius can be detected. On the other versant of the portico corresponding to the northern side, the marble set of the Venus Felix and Cupid (180-200 AD) is located.
As indicated by the monogram on the verso of the paper, our sketch belonged to the collection of Iohan Quirijn van Regteren Altena (1899-1980): artist, art historian and Dutch collector who from 1923 to 1926, was assistant of Fritz Lugt (1884-1970) and contributed to the cataloguing of north European artists’ sketches exposed at the Louvre Museum. From 1926 to 1932, he worked with the merchant Nicolas Beets (1878-1966) – the time when he began buying ancient sketches for his collection. In 1932, he became the Curator of Amsterdam’s municipal collections and from 1937 to 1969 he taught art history at the town university. From 1948 to 1962, he also directed the Cabinet of Graphic Arts of the Rijksmuseum, increasing the acquisitions of Italian and French pieces; furthermore, in 1964 and in 1980 he sold a great number of French sketches and engravings of his collection to the Rijksmuseum. Among his most famous works it is possible to cite the catalogue of Italian sketches which he owned and exposed at the Rijksmuseum anonymously in 1970 (Italiaanse Tekeningen uit een Amsterdamse collectie) and the noteworthy catalogue on the works of a famous Dutch family of artists: Jacques de Gheyn: three generations (published posthumously in 1983).