Trajan's column

Trajan's column

Purchased from M. Oudry in 1864 for £2,498 11s 2d


Trajan's column in two parts carved with representations of incidents in the Dacian campaigns of Trajan
Sculptor unknown
AD 113
The Forum, Rome, Italy

Trajan's column was erected to commemorate the successful campaigns of the Emperor against the Dacians of the Danube frontier in AD 101-2 and 105-6. It stood at the focal point of the Emperor's Forum in Rome and takes the form of a hollow shaft built of Parian marble, 3.83 metres in diameter at the base and rising to a height of 38 metres including the square plinth upon which it stands and the capital that surmounts it. The continuous frieze of low relief depicting the history of Trajan's campaigns winds up and round the column for a total length of over 200 metres, and shows 2500 figures.

In antiquity, placed as it was between the two libraries of the Forum, the reliefs could be studied at close quarters up to a certain height, and the whole sculpted surface was picked out in colour and enriched with metal accessories. Originally the column was topped by a colossal bronze statue of Trajan; this was replaced at the end of the 16th century by the present bronze of Saint Peter, made by Bastiano Torrigiano.

Despite the large proportions of the gallery, the height of 83 feet is not large enough to accommodate the column in one piece, as it may be seen in Rome: our cast is also minus the surmounting figure of St. Peter. The cast is displayed in two separate sections in what is now gallery 46A, the Northern European and Spanish Cast Court. In this respect, it is rather a misfit, as reproductions of Italian sculpture are displayed together in the gallery adjacent (46B). In the original catalogue of 1974, the display of the column in two sections was seen as a distinct bonus, providing as it does the opportunity to see much of the detail of the reliefs not clearly visible on the original. Commenting on the opening of the Architectural Courts in 1873, The Art Journal remarked on the cast, 'the march of the warriors of Rome will come to a sudden conclusion at the glass ceiling, but will recommence on the floor of the court'. The column is made up of pieces of relief that were cast in sections from metal moulds held in the Louvre which had been cast under the direction of Napoleon III. The sections of plaster reliefs are each individually numbered to make up a giant jigsaw and these were attached to a brick inner chimney. The sections of relief are approx. four feet high, two feet wide, and about one inch thick.