The PRIX DE ROME of the École des Beaux-Arts
Francisco Martínez Mindeguía, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya

This must have been a usual image of the Roman Forum, when it was a place where cows would graze, with half-buried monuments and students perching on the ruins with a ladder so they could measure them. (The drawing is of Louis-François Cassas (1756-1827), of 1779).

Students entered the École des Beaux-Arts at an age between 15 and 30 years old. They started in the second class and competed in an emulation contest, consisting of an initial sketch or outline, which could last up to 12 hours; this would end up in a large drawing on which they would work for one to three months. Another set of sketch and finished drawing would follow this exercise…Moreover, students assisted theory, history and construction classes. After 2 or 4 years, students could move to the first class, which followed the same process in a more advanced level. Once achieved sufficient merit, according to teachers, students could compete for the Prix de Rome.

In 1720, the FrenchAcademy established the architecture prizes of Rome, but competitions were customary only after 1730. By this time the prize, previously in painting (1663) and sculpture (1673), was extended to architecture. This was a practice then spread to other European academies.

An example of these competitions is Emmanuel Brune’s project (1836-1886), of a Ladder for the palace of a sovereign, for which he was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1863. This is the plan (notice the way of outlining the section through the ramp),

The main elevation (observe the way he suggests the recessed position of side wings, decreasing contrast between its elements: darkening the plan of the wall and softening the darkness of the cavities).

With few differences, the Academy came to a normalization of the drawing. Made with pencil or ink outlines and watercolor shadows, only the sectioned elements were darkened in plan, while in section only the interiors were shadowed, leaving the sectioned parts in a clear color.This norm was logical, since in plan the pavement was usually continuous (white), and in section it was necessary to use shadows in order to suggest the non-uniform shape of the interior spaces, and darkening the section would make it difficult to read.

The winners of the contest were hosted for 4 or 5 years in Rome, at the Villa Medici, with the obligation to submit the course work to the Academy regularly. During this stay, students sketched and studied Roman (and Greek) architecture. Each year, until the fourth or fifth of the stay in Rome, students (pensionnaires) were supposed to do two sets of drawings, or envois, of the monuments of ancient Rome. In the first, they would reproduce the état actuel, an accurate representation in plan and elevation of the "current" state, which documented the place with the precision of an archaeologist.

The following drawing, of Constant Moyaux (1835-1911), of 1865-6, shows how these drawings were.

This is the Roman Forum and, in the background, the Tabularium, as was in 1865. Moyaux entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1852 and won the Prix de Rome in 1861, on the sixth attempt.

In the second year, the students would reproduce the restauré état, an imaginary and often idealized restoration, which was accompanied by a written description of the age and construction of the monument. These drawings were exhibited at the FrenchAcademy in Rome and sent to Paris for exhibition and critique. The next drawing, also by Constant Moyaux, shows the appearance of such drawings.


The fourth year, after a thorough study, the student would present a full restoration of a classic building. This delivery of Moyaux belongs to his fourth year in Rome, a hypothetical reconstruction of the Tabularium and the Roman Forum.

According to the Academy conventions, all parts are shown with equal detail, so that no structure dominate the composition. Each building is differentiated by subtle changes of tone and shadow, projected at 45 degrees.

During the fifth year, each student would make his own original project.

If the student had not sent any work to Paris by the end of the year, his pension was reduced by half. And if the student still did not still give samples of his work by the third year, the pension was reduced to fifty francs a month.The works sent to Paris were evaluated by a jury and accordingly awarded: the best with 2400 francs and the following with 1800, 1200 and 600. The Moniteur published each year the assessment of each of the works.

The case of Charles Garnier. First, the drawings for which he won the Prix de Rome in 1848. It was a School of Arts and Crafts,

The left side of the main elevation

The right one,

Following, the restoration of the JupiterPanthelleienTemple, in Aegina, class 1852-1853,during his fourth year. The current state ,

and the restoration proposal,


Recommended bibliography :
- J. M. Pérouse de Monclos, Concours de l'Académie royale du XVIIIe siècle, 1984.
- Arthur Drexler, editor of Roma Antiqua: Forum, Colisée, Palatin. Envois des Architectes Français (1788-1924), 1985; catalogue of The Architecture of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts exhibition (1977)
- Hector d'Espouy, Fragmentfs d'architecture antique d'aprés les relevés et restaurations des anciens pensionnaires de l'Académie de Fance a Rome, 1959
- Hector d'Espouy, Fragments d'architecture du moyen age et de la renaissance d'après les relevés et restaurations des anciens pensionnaires de l'Académie de Fance à Rome, 19-
- Hector d'Espouy, Monuments antiques : relevés et restaurés par les architectes pensionnaires de l'Académie de Fance à Rome, 19--

© of Francisco Martínez Mindeguía’s texts
Francisco Martínez Mindeguía is Profesor Agregado at the Superior Technical Architecture School of Vallès (Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura del Vallès), UPC

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