|on the Arch of Constantine
José Grave de Peralta
|Toroazul Painting and Fine Arts
|Details from Arch : Dacian
captives from Trajan's time
pencil on paper 11 " x 17 "
It has taken me almost four years of living in Rome to feel capable of drawing these
figures --- from the Arch of Constantine --- using only LINES and the blank space of the
page to say all, to tell all that they say to me.
I guess one could say, "These captives hit home!" inside me, and my hands
were able to draw what their own hands hide, their chains and their humanity.
Not much erasing in these pencil drawings, I admit with pride, but I repeat that it has
taken me all this time living in Rome and drawing "freehand" in Rome to almost learn
from scratch how to arrive at lines that with just the slightest angle express the life
force of a word, of an emotion, or of a dream of freedom.
I dedicate this page of my web site to so many Cuban people to this day, living in the
island and even representing the government of the island -- abroad -- who in a way
similar to these statues, are able to strike a dignified pose despite their own captivity.
The Dacian or Rumanian captives --- wearing Phrygian hats -- are my own favorite
pieces of "recycled" statuary on the Arch. These figures actually are references to
Constantine's predecessor, Trajan, who in the early 100s A.D. waged war north of
the Danube and extended the empire to what is now Rumania. Trajan's Dacian
captives are emblematic of this other emperor's reign, and they appear in both his
great Column near Piazza Venezia and in many other historical sites of Rome.
One of the first days I began sketching the Arch of Constantine, during an evening
walk near the monument with a dear Belgian friend, she remarked on the beauty of
the prisoners and on the "fact" that they would have probably been put to death by
Trajan himself the day after they posed for the artist who sculpted their forms for
all time. "They are simply too beautiful, Jose," she lamented.
Anne's almost naive juxtaposition of sentiment and history, however, made me
stop and look harder at these particular 'moments" of the Arch. Suddenly,
something about the prisoners' broad shoulders struck me -- what a gesture of
humility ! Their scruffy beards and large, bound hands; their caps; and those
pilgrim capes...! I realized how such figures were more than ornament to the arch's