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Shakespeare & Beyond

Drawing Shakespeare: Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar bas-relief. Drawing by Paul Glenshaw.
Julius Caesar bas-relief. Drawing by Paul Glenshaw.
Julius Caesar bas-relief. Drawing by Paul Glenshaw.

Julius Caesar bas-relief. Drawing by Paul Glenshaw.

This is the sixth post in a series by artist Paul Glenshaw about drawing the bas-reliefs by sculptor John Gregory on the front of the Folger Shakespeare Library building. The series examines the bas-reliefs one by one; each sculpture depicts a scene from a different Shakespeare play. Today’s post is about the bas-relief of a scene from Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene 1

As Casca strikes, the others rise up and stab Caesar.
CAESAR: Et tu, Brutè?—Then fall, Caesar.
He dies.

It’s a moment that needs no introduction. Et tu. It’s one of the most famous Shakespearean lines (and one of the most overused crossword answers around). I remember as a kid looking it up in an anthology we had lying around the house and seeing it in a wobbly classroom video in high school and in Jean-Léon Gérôme’s painting at the Walters Art Gallery (now the Walters Art Museum) in Baltimore. I’m sure my familiarity with this scene is common. As always, drawing John Gregory’s sculpture taught me to see the Caesar death scene fresh—and it posed one of the more difficult drawing challenges I’d had.

Gregory packs action into the six-by-six foot square so we can read the sculpture from left to right, top to bottom. It’s as if we’re seeing the immediate second after the last of the 23 daggers had been pulled out of the emperor’s body.

Architectural forms cover the top—including niches that frame two of the assassins’ heads—telling us we’re indoors. The assassins’ heads and hands come next, suggesting what’s just happened and what’s going to happen next: the one on the far left turning away; the one nearest Caesar brandishing his dagger; the two to the right covering their daggers in their togas and moving away from their victim. Then there’s Caesar himself, slumped in a klismos style chair, head back, as if he’s about to slide out of it. The deed has been done.

But other than Caesar, Gregory does not make it obvious who’s who. Which one is Brutus? Casca? Cassius? Cinna? Gregory also doesn’t lead us immediately into the next moments of the play: the assassins covering themselves in Caesar’s blood to show the action they’ve taken and making their appeal to the public. The assassins don’t yet know they’re heading to their doom.


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Drawing Shakespeare: Macbeth - Shakespeare & Beyond — January 31, 2019