Benjamin Ulmann (French, 1829–1884)
Sketch for Sulla in the House of Marius, ca. 1864
Oil on canvas, 19 x 27 in.
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan H. Kagan
In 1846 Ulmann was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts where he studied with Drölling and Picot. After he had won the Prix de Rome in 1859, he sojourned in Italy (1860–64), inspiring classically themed works, such as the present painting that illustrates a passage from the Lives by Plutarch (ca. 45–125 AD). It is the preparatory sketch for an enormous canvas (11 x 15 ft., Musée de Grenoble), which he sent from Rome to the Academy in Paris as a final demonstration of his artistic progress and to exhibit in the 1866 Salon.
Ulmann chose the rivalry between Marius and Sulla in order to evoke the contrast between fortune and virtue. The Salon catalogue entry explained the subject as follows: “Sulla, named consul and commander of the army against Mitridate, was forcefully brought to his competitor Marius by the tribune Sulpicius, supporter of the latter. Sulla was forced to vote on whether or not to accord citizenship to the Italian allies and freed slaves. After the vote, Sulla was discharged and Marius, named in his place, was attacked some days later by the troops that his competitor had gathered in Nola.”