In 1850, the subject for the Prix de Rome was Zenobia Discovered by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes. There were two winners, Paul Baudry and William Bouguereau, whose entry you see above. For Bouguereau, it was already the third attempt to win this coveted prize. It marked the begin of his career: No older paintings of his seem to have survive, and from the same year, there are only a few portraits of members of his family, and the somewhat bizarre Dante and Virgil in Hell.

The story of Rhadamistus and Zenobia is found in the Annals of Tacitus.

This painting was Lefebvre’s winning entry to the Prix de Rome in 1861. It shows the death of Priam, as described by Virgil in the Aeneid:

Then Pyrrhus thus: “Go thou from me to fate,
And to my father my foul deeds relate.
Now die!” With that he dragg’d the trembling sire,
Slidd’ring thro’ clotter’d blood and holy mire,
(The mingled paste his murder’d son had made,)
Haul’d from beneath the violated shade,
And on the sacred pile the royal victim laid.
His right hand held his bloody falchion bare,
His left he twisted in his hoary hair;
Then, with a speeding thrust, his heart he found:
The lukewarm blood came rushing thro’ the wound,
And sanguine streams distain’d the sacred ground.
Thus Priam fell, and shar’d one common fate
With Troy in ashes, and his ruin’d state:
He, who the scepter of all Asia sway’d,
Whom monarchs like domestic slaves obey’d.
On the bleak shore now lies th’ abandon’d king,
A headless carcass, and a nameless thing.

If you make a reverse image search, you will find countless websites, usually about medical themes, that have this image inlined, and it has been used for a book cover. Yet it took me quite a while to find out who the artist was.

This is strange, since it was the winning entry for the Prix de Rome in 1808, when the subject was once again (as it had been in 1774) Erasistratus Discovering the Cause of Antiochus’ Disease. Even though he won this prestigious prize, there is very little information about Alexandre Charles Guillemot on the web. He was born in 1786 and died in 1831, that’s about all.

The Prix de Rome

By chance I came across an old and interesting site, The Prix de Rome Contests in Painting. The Prix de Rome was awarded for more than 300 years, from 1663 to 1968, to painters and sculptors (later prizes for architecture and music were added) who passed a rather grueling contest. For the painters, it lasted 106 days, the details are explained on the page.

The site is interesting in itself as well, for it is very old. The images date back to December 1995, which is probably when the site was et up. They are of course of rather low quality, 256 color GIFs at about 500×400 pixels, they had to be at a time when 640×480 was still a common screen resolution. But I really liked the style of the web design itself, with multiple small well linked pages. I liked it a lot better than the current site of the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts.