General Presentation of the album

Delphine Burlot (translation Julie Leclert and Delphine Burlot)

The album published here is now kept at the Getty Research Institute Library. It contains drawings by French artist, Élie-Honoré Montagny, made during his stay in Italy between 1804 and 1815.

Bound in vellum, it comprises ninety folios and contains 434 drawings by Montagny that are, for the most part, copies of antiquities. Some of them are traced from published works and the artist made others from “life” in Rome and Naples.

The title on the first folio provides information about the date and place of execution of some drawings: “From my voyages [sic], to Naples and from Sicily [sic] from 1804 to 1805, by Monsieur Montagny History Painter / Collection of Antiquities drawn after Paintings found at Herculaneum, Stabia and Pompeii that are now in the Museum of Portici, four miles from Naples.” (fol. 1r)

This title most likely relates to the pencil drawings from ancient paintings made in the museum of Portici in 1804, on which Montagny made annotations indicating the colours. These drawings, together with other drawings made in Naples in the “Palais des Etudes” (the name given to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the palace where the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli is located today), have been arranged here in a set called “drawings from Naples.” The location of these drawings in the album, in the middle of the page and on the recto of the folios (fol. 2r), shows their importance to Montagny’s eyes. The title on the front page of the album and the arrangement of these drawings indicates that Montagny’s first thought may have been of publishing ancient paintings from Herculaneum in colour. This project would have been a great success at a time when foreigners were restricted from accessing all the precious antiquities from Pompeii and Herculaneum. But the project, if it ever existed, came to nothing. Examination of the content of this volume reveals a much more complex labour undertaken over a longer period than intended in the title. Montagny has completed the album by inserting folios torn from another sketchbook, or loose sheets, whose drawings were made somewhat later in Rome. However, tracings and other drawings have been pasted on around the drawings made in Naples, sometimes with an iconography related to the central drawing (fol. 15v), which may reflect a desire on Montagny’s part to collate items on a thematic basis. On the left-hand folio, Montagny pasted drawings made in Rome, all from the same sketchbook (here called “Roman Sketchbook”).  The folios of this sketchbook are numbered, allowing us to reconstruct it. The album also contains drawings from invention (Venus), and copies from the antique made long after 1815, like the drawing showing a gutter in the shape of a lion’s head, made in 1837 (Two gutters in the shape of a lion's head).

Many drawings have been rearranged before being pasted in the album: drawings made on the same sheet were divided and placed on different folios in the album. For instance, the flag on the stern of the ship on folio 30 (Ship), lost when Montagny cropped the drawing, is on the reverse of a drawing from an ancient painting paste on the recto of folio 32 (Cupid). Once the album was completed, Montagny added a few inscriptions, mostly about the object location in a museum or private collection, and drew a few missing details (Ship). Finally, images of Priapus (Priapus, Bronze statue-Priapus, Lamp-Priapus, Statue-Priapus) and of ithyphallic satyrs, were censured with black ink, either by Montagny or a later owner of the album.

The Montagny album is therefore a composite object, elaborated by the artist during the ten or so years that he remained in Italy and perhaps reworked after his return to France. Intending to pursue a career in history painting, Montagny may have put the album to use in later compositions since it contains many drawings recording details of antique costumes, arms, and tools. The material history of the album is unknown to us but it seems likely to have remained in the artist’s studio until his death.