Romeo and Juliet
Pen and Sepia with wash on paper. 400 x 270 mm
Inventory number: D659
Peter Cornelius’ drawing is one of several – though they are not in Thorvaldsens Museum – with motifs from Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Cornelius was born in Düsseldorf and came to Rome in the autumn of 1811. The previous year, a group of young German artists there had settled in the monastery of Sant’ Isidoro, where, in an ascetic, pious and simple fraternity they sought to revive the religious painting of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. They were known in the town for their long hair and so came to be called Nazarenes (after Jesus of Nazareth). Cornelius was profoundly fascinated by this community of artists, but failed to live up their lofty ethical demands in every way. Thus, in 1813 he had a relationship with a young Italian woman, whom he had to marry because she became pregnant. The dry, almost pedantic lines in this drawing are typical of the Nazarenes, but its contents are atypical of them with their focus on a love that quite obviously does not only reflect a spiritual relationship. Note the tempting alcove in the semi-darkness on the left! The motif is taken from Act 2, Scene 5 in the tragedy, where Julia attempts to hold her Romeo back from the window, through which at dawn he sees it as safest to leave her bower before their dalliance is discovered by her family. There is a sketch for this drawing in the Collection of Prints and Drawings in Hamburg (inv. No. 1950-95).