Scene from the Tragedy of Virginia

This design for a theater set was inspired by a 1793 edition of the play Virginie by Jean-François de La Harpe (1739–1803), a passage from which Lequeu copied on the verso of the sheet. As recounted by the ancient writer Livy in his history of Rome, Virginia’s father stabbed her to death to prevent her capture by the lustful Appius Claudius, who claimed she was a fugitive slave from his own estate. Her murder inspired Roman plebeians to revolt against a patrician tribunal. The revolutionary overtones of the subject undoubtedly appealed to Lequeu, who set the tragic action at left in front of a grand vaulted space reminiscent of the cloaca maxima—the Roman sewer—which underscores the theme of the decay of justice.

Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757–1826)
Scene from the Tragedy of Virginia, 1794–95
Pen and black ink, brown wash
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Departement des Estampes et de la photographie