Francesco Antonio Simonini
Parma 1689-Venice 1753
The Race of the Barbieri Horses, Rome or the Race of the unbroken Arab horses down the Corso, seen in front of a Roman Palace

Black chalk, pen and brown ink and brown wash, black chalk framing lines

305 x 530 mm. (12 x 20 3/4 in.)


The race of the riderless Barbieri horses in the Corso was a Roman Carnival tradition that began with the gathering of the horses in the Piazza del Popolo and ended with their capture at the finish.The festivities of Roman carnival concentrated on the week before Lent and were strictly regulated. Carnival had, with its own celebrations and rites an inverted and liberating function, both at an individual and collective level. Every year the warnings and prohibitions of the authorities tried to control and circumscribe the transgressions of carnival.

The display of masks, the jokes, the confetti wars, the processions of allegorical floats, the horse races, the moccoletti (where everyone tried to put out the candles everyone else was holding), took place primarily in the Via del Corso and in the nearby streets, where in 1466 Pope Paul II had transferred the carnival from Piazza Navona and Testaccio, which up until then had been the places set aside for public carnival celebrations.

A central and recurrent element of the carnival is represented in the barberi race. The barberi, small, robust horses from North Africa, raced the length of the Via del Corso, without jockeys, and between two rows of the screaming crowd. The race began with the mossa (movement) in Piazza del Popolo and ended in Piazza San Marco, now Piazza Venezia, with the ripresa (recapture).

Simonini worked as a genre and battle-piece painter and draughtsman. He was a pupil of Francesco Monti and Ilario Spolverini. When he was in Florence he copied the battle-pieces of Jacques Courtois, which had a great influence upon Simonini. Simonini also worked in Rome and Bologna, and by the 1730s was in Venice. During this period he painted battle scenes in the Villa Pisani at Stra. Simonini worked as an illustrator for Marshal Schulenburg, and seemed to have accompanied him on his campaigns against the Turks.

There have been numerous comparable drawings s by Simonini on the market in recent years1.

1.Dorotheum, 24 March, 2011, lot 91; Sothebys London, 3 July 1980, lot 70 and Christies London, 7 July 1998, lot 15.

Other Artworks By Francesco Antonio Simonini