Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne
Returning soldiers display their spoils of war in a trailing procession. Towers of gold, jewels and the armour of the conquered have been taken as trophies and paraded to demonstrate the victory and success of Roman military leader Julius Caesar.
This woodcut is part of a series, The triumph of Julius Caesar, which is a compositional copy of the egg-tempera painting of the same name by celebrated Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna. Classical themes remained popular in art throughout the Renaissance, as a way for patrons to assert their intelligence and learning, and to advertise their authority, power and leadership to visiting guests, who may have encountered such artworks adorning a patron’s court, palazzo or villa.
In art history, the term ‘chiaroscuro’ is often applied to works that feature high contrasts of light and dark. But when applied to the woodcut process, it means that a key block is used to create the image outline and two or more additional blocks are used to print in different colours. Although this doesn’t necessarily create the high contrasts associated with traditional chiaroscuro, it does give greater detail and volume of depth than a single-colour print. The triumph of Julius Caesar is sometimes described as one of the first prints produced with this technique, and is thus highly valued by scholars and collectors alike.
The University of Melbourne’s curriculum is rich and varied, and changes from year to year. For more teaching ideas, contact a collection manager.
Introduction to printmaking processes
Consolidate your knowledge of historical printmaking techniques by exploring this object, housed in the Baillieu Library Print Collection. Consider how printmaking has changed since the Renaissance. You may wish to use themes arising from discussion of this print to inspire your own work.
The Renaissance in Italy
The Mantegna source of this image was commissioned by Federico I Gonzaga, duke of Mantua, in the late 15th century. Prepare a 10-minute presentation discussing the role of patronage in Italian Renaissance art.
Use this print as a starting point to develop an exhibition proposal for the Noel Shaw Gallery in the Baillieu Library. You may include other prints, as well as objects held in other cultural collections of the university.
Gender and Sexuality in Greece and Rome
Consider representations of gender and sexuality in this image. Discuss whether the effeminate youth bearing the spoils of war in the foreground fits within the conventions you have studied.
Violence, War and Terrorism
How is war depicted here? Compare and contrast with modern-day depictions of conflict presented through art, television and the media. Would you argue that the portrayal of war has changed?
Owning Ideas: Creation, Innovation and Law
This print has been described as a reproduction of a work by famed Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna. Does reproduction decrease the value of the original work, or increase it? Discuss how this case might be approached and dealt with in a modern-day framework.
Myth, Art and Empire: Greece and Rome
Explore how ancient civilisation is represented in this Renaissance print. Is it historically accurate? Use your findings as a basis for a presentation on the ways in which modern Western culture has inherited and appropriated aspects of ancient civilisations.
Jaynie Anderson, ‘The spoils of war’, in Kerrianne Stone (curator), Radicals, slayers and villains: Prints from the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne Library, 2014, p. 10.