Long neglected, Jean-Antoine Julien is now recognised as one of the precursors of Neoclassical painting. Born in Switzerland, he settled in Rome in 1760 after a short sojourn in Paris. In Italy his main patron was Guillaume-Léon du Tillot, Marquese of Felino (1711-1774), Prime Minister of the duchy of Parma, who each year commissioned a large historical picture from him. In gratitude to the court of Parma, the artist decided to use the name Julien de Parme. When Felino fell from power in 1772, Julien decided to follow him into his Parisian exile. There his pictures did not meet with the success he was expecting and his career ended in obscurity and poverty. His Journal and his published correspondence with the Belgian painter André-Corneille Lens (1739-1822) are invaluable documents for the artistic life in Rome and Paris at the end of the 18th Century.
This drawing is a study for The Marriage of Alexander to Roxana (fig. 1) painted in 1768 for the court of Parma, now in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence (220 x 330 cm.) (P. Rosenberg, in Julien de Parme 1736-1799, exhib. cat., Rancate, Pinacoteca Cantonale and Parma, Fondazione Magnani-Rocca, 1999-2000, no. 20). The present work was followed by another developed composition closer to the picture now in a French private collection (P. Rosenberg, op. cit., no. 21).
The composition is typical of Julien de Parme as it shows his equal interest both in Antiquity and in the great masters of the Renaissance. It has often been noted that the initial source of inspiration for Julien's composition was Sodoma's fresco (1512) of the same subject in the Villa Farnesina. This influence is evident in the present drawing where the placing and the postures of the principal protagonists of the scene are directly borrowed from Sodoma's composition. The Pitti's picture is closer to the now lost composition by Raphael on which Sodoma based his fresco, Julien must have known this at the time through an engraving by Caraglio.
Interestingly, seven years after having completed his large canvas Julien acquired a drawing at the sale of the famous collection of Pierre-Jean Mariette, then considered to be Raphael's study for his Marriage of Alexander to Roxana (fig. 2). Long regarded as by one of the members of his studio, it has been recently reattributed to the master himself (Roma e lo stile classico di Raffaello, exhib. cat., Mantua and Vienna, 1999, no. 81).