Flavius Josephus and Vespasian
Private Collection, New York
Enrique Valdivieso, Pedro de Campaña, Seville, 2008, pp. 182-183, 207, fig. 120
This drawing was first attributed to Campaña by Nicole Dacos at the time of its sale at Piasa in 2002. She proposed a dating for the drawing towards the end of Campaña's life, around 1580, and connected it to his activity as a designer of tapestries following his return to Brussels. Enrique Valdivieso recently included the drawing in his monograph on the artist, concurring that it is linked to Campaña's activity of designing tapestries during the last stage of his career in Brussels.
This sheet is one of the largest and most elaborate surviving drawings by Campaña. The subject of the drawing is a scene from the story of Flavius Josephus and Vespasian. This episode derives from Flavius Josephus's The Jewish War, which includes an account of Vespasian's military campaigns against the Jews in Israel. Flavius Josephus led the Jewish army against the Romans in the First Jewish-Roman War in the first-century AD. After surrendering to Vespasian, Josephus served as an interpreter and advisor to Vespasian's son Titus. He was later granted his freedom and penned several histories of the Jewish people. Campaña here skillfully uses the long, horizontal format of the sheet to create a richly detailed composition that plays out along the diagonal receding from the foreground at left to the background at right. The scene is populated with a large crowd of dramatically posed figures and is ornamented with passages of classical architecture and sculpture throughout.
Campaña designed a cycle of tapestries executed around 1570 on the theme of The Jewish War, now conserved in Marsala, Sicily in the Museo degli Arazzi. These tapestries, which are thought to have come from the royal collection in Madrid, include several episodes from the story of Flavius Josephus and Vespasian (Figs. 1-2). Dacos proposed that a drawing by Campaña formerly on the art market depicting The Capture of Flavius Josephus was originally intended for an abandoned tapestry commission also on the theme of The Jewish War and was later adapted for one of the tapestries in Marsala. In 2002, Dacos also suggested that our drawing could be related to this unrealized tapestry project. However, our drawing is unusually large and detailed, and may have been another variation on this theme by Campaña for another project.
Campaña's depictions of the Roman emperor's triumphs against the Jews allude to the victories of Charles V and Philip II as sponsors of the wars of religion against Protestants and Muslims. In these works, Flavius Josephus represents John Frederick I of Saxony, the leader of the Schmalkaldic League, who was captured at the battle of Mühlberg and later given his freedom by the Holy Roman Emperor several years later.