David Allan

The Start of the Race in the Corso, Rome


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
David Allan 1744–1796
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 219 × 380 mm
Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996

Display caption

The Scottish artist David Allan travelled to Italy in the late 1760s with aspirations to become a history painter. During his stay there he made a famous group of elaborate pen and wash drawings of Rome during the Carnival (Royal Collection), to which this sketch relates. It shows the start of the riderless horse-race which took place in the Corso annually as part of the Carnival's festivities. A contemporary account describes how 'the horses are held by men who are ready to let them all go at the signal ... on the rope falling to the ground, they all spring off at once, and... mortars are immediately fired to give notice to the people to keep out of their way'. However, horses sometimes fell, and members of the crowd occasionally became trampled underfoot.

Gallery label, September 2004

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