Vincenzo Brenna
Florence 1745-Dresden 1820
Aerial view of the Circus of Maxentius

PROVENANCE: Thomas Mansel Talbot (1747-1813); thence by descent.

Signed 'Vinc. Brenna Arch. del.' (lower right margin) Graphite, pen and black ink and watercolour, watermark 'PZ' 450 x 970 mm (17 x 38 in.)

The re-discovery of this important group of drawings by the Florentine architect and draughtsman, Vincenzo Brenna is an exciting in sight into his known oeuvre and working practise. Additionally the provenance of the drawings is very interesting in the context of British Grand Tour patrons.

Brennas known corpus of drawings consist of drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum1 and the National Library in Warsaw2, with the occasional drawing appearing on the art market3, as well as a group in the Krannert Art Museum, Illinois. The drawing of the Circus Maximus is very much in the style of the drawings that Brenna had already drawn for Charles Townley, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Indeed Brenna wrote to Townley on 11 August 1772, tempting him with a duplicate of our drawing. The purpose of Townleys commission was clear. Brennas drawing belongs in a tradition of such reconstructions that goes back to the Neapolitan antiquary, painter and architect Pirro Ligorio4 It is likely that this drawing was drawn for the same purpose, since Thomas Mansel Talbot was a keen antiquarian, like Townley. Talbot was also travelling in Italy on his Grand Tour, from 1769, when he was actively building up his collection. The extensive notes on the drawing of the Circus Maximus provides a key to the major antique sites. The group of drawings in the Victoria and Albert of the Colosseum also have elaborate settings, in particular the lion hunt. The chariot race and the animated crowd in our drawing are a close comparative. And so it was quite natural that Brenna would think Townley might be interested.

The present group of drawings of the Colosseum are interesting in their relationship to the group at the Victoria and Albert Museum, since our group to do not copy the latter collection. Quite what the relationship between them is not clear at present with out further research.

The close relationship that Brenna had with Charles Townley is well known5. It is also known that Brenna worked for other British patrons, such as Hugh Smith Barry of Marbury Hall in Cheshire. Indeed we know that Talbot acquired these drawings through James Byres6. Quite what was the involvement of Thomas Jenkins, with whom he is supposed to have worked exclusively7, remains unclear. Further research into this group of drawings may well reveal further information as to this relationship between Brenna, Talbot, Byres, Jenkins and Townley.

1.Victoria and Albert Museum, inventory numbers 8478 and 8479.

2.London, Heim Gallery and elsewhere, 100 of the Finest Drawings from Polish Collections, 1980, no.10.

3.London, Hazlitt Gooden and Fox, Design, Drawings for Architecture Costume and the Decorative Arts from 1570, 1989, no. 29.

4.I. Bignamini, and I. Jenkins, The Antique p. 237, in Grand Tour, The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century, A. Wilton and I. Bignamini, 1996.

5.G. Vaughan, op.cit., pp. 37-40.

6.G. Vaughan, op.cit., p. 40.

7.G. Vaughan entry on Thomas Mansel Talbot, in the Dictionary of Art, ed. J. Turner, 1996, p. 268, and Brinsley-Ford, Thomas Jenkins: Banker, Dealer, and Unofficial English Agent, in Apollo, June 1974, vol. 99, pp.416-25.