Trajan's Column Unrolled

Trajan's Column Unrolled

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At Rome's E.U.R., the Museum of Roman Civilization has no actual artifacts, but it does have dozens of rooms full of plaster casts and models which illustrate the greatness of classical Rome. The highlight is a plaster model of Trajan's Column sliced up and laid out so you can actually see the scenes. The original is one of the first great examples of "continuous narration" — when a relief is carved into a column as if winding a scroll around and around a huge pillar.

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Trajan’s Column in Rome: why and how to see the ‘first film in history’

What would you think of, if I told you that in Rome you could see the first film in history?

If your mind started visualizing a grainy moving image on a large screen, let me tell you: it is nothing of the sort!

In Rome, we do have what historians call the first film in history but it is not a movie: it is a column!

More precisely a column dating back to Roman times decorated with a ribbon of images that tell a story: the ‘film’ of Trajan’s conquest in Dacia.

Trajan’s column is a peculiar site in Rome and while not unique, it is the first of this kind and has inspired other versions of the same idea both elsewhere in Rome and Paris, just to name a couple.

This is all you need to know about it and tips for visiting.

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Trajan’s Column: Detailed 3D Reconstruction Of The Roman Triumphal Column

A monument erected in commemoration of Emperor Trajan’s victory over the Dacians (who lived in what is now modern Romania) in two military campaigns, Trajan’s Column was completed in the year of circa 113 AD – incidentally when the Roman Empire reached its greatest geographical extent. Located in what is now Trajan’s Forum (north of the Roman Forum), the triumphal architectural project was possibly achieved under the supervision of Apollodorus of Damascus, a Syrian-Greek architect.

And interestingly enough, while Trajan’s Column was probably the first of its kind, the free-standing structure has inspired a lot of other triumphal projects and victory columns, even in our modern times. More importantly, from the historical perspective, the spiral bas reliefs of the monument do provide a wealth of context (albeit some in stylized nature) about the arms, armor, and equipment of the early 2nd century Roman soldiers and their foes.

Vital Statistics and Features –

As for the architectural scope, Trajan’s Column has an overall height of around 120-125 ft (approximately 36 m – including the pedestal) and a diameter of 12.1 ft (3.7 m), and as such, is composed of a series of 19 or 20 Carrara marble drums, each weighing a mighty 32 tons. The frieze (section containing the bas reliefs) uniquely runs around the shaft in a spiral manner for 23 times, thereby covering an impressive expanse of 620 ft (190 m). This arrangement allows the structure to narratively represent around a whopping 2,600 figures via 155 scenes from the Dacian Wars. Furthermore, a 16-ft high bronze statue of Emperor Trajan stood atop the triumphal column – but was since replaced by that of St. Peter in 1588 AD.

Reconstruction of The Trajan’s Column –

The fascinatingly vibrant recreation was achieved by the resourceful folks over at the ‘History in 3D’ team. We have previously covered what might just be the most detailed reconstruction of the city of Rome itself (in circa 320 AD). In their own words –

The ‘History in 3D’ creative team continues working on a virtual reconstruction of ancient Rome. Our goal is to carry out this project at a new qualitative level using modern available data and technical capabilities. Some time ago, three video trailers about Rome in 3D reconstruction have already been released on our YouTube channel, representing the various stages of work on the reconstruction. Since the recent video was released, a lot of work has been done to update and expand the content, and we believe that the project has been transformed crucially and reached a new level of quality.

The column of Trajan was and still remains one of the most outstanding monuments located in the center of Rome. For centuries, it remains a mute witness of the outstanding past of the great empire. Its reliefs dedicated to the Dacian Wars are a valuable and interesting historical source. In this regard, we could not help paying special attention to the reconstruction of the column in order to show, as qualitatively and authentically as possible, how this monument might have looked in antiquity.

We are pleased to present the result of long months of working – for the first time in the world, a completely polychromatic reconstruction of the Trajan’s column was completed, with detailed restoration and completely colorized reliefs of the column and pedestal. We believe that we were able to carry out this work at a high level by working through a number of historical sources and studying the historical background.

You have an opportunity to have a look at the reconstruction of the column and peristyle of the Trayan forum by viewing our new video trailer, which has been made using new visualization tools. We hope that this work will be appreciated by the public, and this column will take its place as the pearl of our project of the reconstruction of the center of the Eternal City.

As for the project in general, the progress on preparing an application for release is nearing completion, and in the coming months, the application will be released where the central part of the city will be available for a walkthrough with access to the most iconic monuments and interiors. Their reconstruction will be carried out at the same level of quality, like the column of Trajan. A separate application is also planned for the Trajan’s column itself, where users will be able to explore detailed painted scenes of the spiral relief scene by scene.

We are grateful to all those who have been following and interested in the development of our project over the years. Stay with us! In the near future, you will find a lot of interesting news and updates from our team!

Thanks, Danila Loginov and the ‘History in 3D’ team.


Trajan™

The Trajan font was created by Carol Twombly. Trajan is based on the inscriptional capitals from the Trajan column in Rome, built AD 113. The Trajan font includes a classical set of capitals for use in magazines, advertising and brochures.

The Trajan design was named after the 13th Emperor of Rome (circa. 100AD), who was a keen builder of public buildings. As was customary for Roman buildings of the time, his buildings bore distinctive stone-chiseled plaques to honor those who built them. Wherever you went in Rome, you could be sure of seeing his name adorning an edifice somewhere. Trajan ’ s Column, a large column dedicated to him, bears inscriptions in the distinctive style and is one of the most famous examples of Roman square capitals.

Characteristic of the Roman typeface is a dot placed mid-character height like a hyphen, generally to separate words – although not in between every word. Titles most often had these abbreviations possibly in an attempt to increase the amount of information in the small space available most likely because they had a tendency to have a long public office title and even longer personal names.

Edward Caitch was a Roman Catholic priest who, as a master calligrapher, had been researching the typeface on Trajan ’ s column for some time. He was unconvinced that these typefaces were based solely on chiseling techniques, and surmised that the serifs they contained were in fact the result of painted calligraphy. Caitch showed that the letters were painted onto the stone, wherupon the expert stone-masons would then chisel the characters out.

Font designer Carol Twombly took this research and created a typeface that had many of the features of the original Trajan Column. She included a number of modern punctuation marks and symbols such as the copyright “ © ” and the Euro “ € ” symbols. The typeface has a number of mathematical symbols including all the commonly used Greek Symbols used such as pi, Epsilon, Delta and common operators such as Square Root and Greater than/equal to. These symbols are most often found in more the extensive glyph coverage that common fonts have, but the style of the Trajan font family makes it especially suitable for typing equations that, assuming one understands math, are easy to visually comprehend.

The Trajan design conveys a feeling of importance, elegance and is very easy to read at a distance but seems to have found its niche in Hollywood. It has been used in a huge number of movie title sequences and is even more popular on DVD packaging. Just about every genre of movie has at one time or another used the Trajan design for the main titles. It has appeared on National television worldwide in numerous title sequences and even used in presidential campaign promotions.


Trajan’s column previous projection work.

To celebrate the 1900th anniversary of Trajan’s Column, London’s V&A Museum is transforming its magnificent cast of the structure into an innovative son et lumière spectacle.

In conjunction with the Romanian Cultural Institute in London, the V&A has commissioned two young Romanian artists to breathe new life into the epic battles and scenes depicted by the column’s sculptures.

The collaboration sees the coming together of video artist Dreamrec (Silviu Visan) and his fellow countryman, electroacoustic composer Rochiţe (Catalin Matei). They will employ the latest techniques to create an experience that the V&A hopes will ‘playfully highlight, deconstruct, and manipulate the column’s geometry and dramatic carving’.

The plan is to transform the column with projection mapping and 3D animation, and compliment the atmosphere with a specially composed soundtrack that will feature interpretations of Dacian and Roman music – using flutes, harps, war drums and the human voice.

The experience will be accompanied by a short film narrated by broadcaster Dan Snow, who is well known in the UK from his documentary programmes, many of them on famous battles.

Collecting and displaying plaster casts of great art works became fashionable in the late 19th century – to assist with research and bring the works to a wider audience. The V&A’s famous collection is housed in two great halls, with Trajan’s Column, the largest, forming its centrepiece. It is displayed split into two sections that dominate the glass-ceilinged display hall, called the West Court, purpose built in 1873.

Viewing the column is made easier as the West Court is overlooked from the Gilbert Bayes Gallery (room 111), on the museum’s level 3, and this will be best viewpoint for the son et lumière too.

The weather, and Rome’s traffic pollution, haven’t been kind to the original column, which is now weathered to the natural cream colour of the North Italian marble that it was fashioned from. The V&A’s cast is also neutral in tone. We know little about the colouring on the original column, but it seems likely that the friezes would have been painted in some way – perhaps in realistic colours. Therefore the lighting effects of the V&A’s project promise to enliven the sculptures with thrilling colour that hasn’t been seen for centuries.

Visualisation of Trajan 1900, (2)(c) Dreamrec and Rochiţe

The original column is a remarkable object, standing 38m high in Rome’s Trajan Forum, with about 2,500 figures spiralling up the marble structure. If unrolled and laid flat, the freizes would stretch to 240 meters. Perhaps even more remarkable is that the 100 tons of stone it took to build the column were transported 200 miles from a quarry in the north of Italy, in large five ton blocks.

The sculptures represent a dramatic storyboard of the Emperor Trajan’s military campaigns against the Dacians and their King Decebalus, and were erected between AD 106–113 by Trajan to commemorate his victories over them. These conquests resulted in the territories of modern day Romania being incorporated into the Roman Empire.

Inside the 20 marble drums that make up shaft – each 3½ meters in diameter – is the world’s oldest known spiral staircase. It is one of extraordinary precision and craftsmanship, and has strategically placed holes every quarter turn that allow in enough natural light for climbers to find their way to the viewing platform at the top. The original column contains a chamber that served as Trajan’s tomb, but his ashes are no longer inside.

This totemic column is deep rooted in the psyche of modern day Romania too. It is the first pictorial representation of Romanians and a powerful national symbol, found in school textbooks, used as an emblem in the promotion of tourism, and still providing inspiration for local artists. And it is fitting that the V&A’s project coincides with the UK government’s lifting of the temporary working restrictions placed on the citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, due to disappear on January 1st 2014.

There were two other plaster casts taken from the original column, but the one at the V&A’s West Court gives the viewing experience that is closest to the original, in that it is displayed in two giant portions rather than flattened for wall-hanging style display.

The column has posed difficulties for the onlooker from the start, whether imperial inhabitants of Rome or the tourists of today. The 2/3rd life size figures are exquisite in detail and execution, but are difficult to appreciate fully when viewed from ground level. The fiery battle and crowd scenes aren’t carved any larger or more prominently as they spiral up the column, which would have made them easier to make out from ground level. Instead they seem to fade and become less distinct as they spiral further away from the viewer.

It seems the Roman’s didn’t carry out the sculpting to a detailed blueprint either, and somewhat surprisingly the figures and objects along its spiralling band sometimes jut over the ground line of the band above or below them, as though through miscalculations. The height of the band varies too, from about 0.8m to a little over 1.5m.

Standing in Rome today it is tricky to see the sculpting properly, even on the lower sections of spiral, as the column itself is atop a 1.7m plinth. As you look skywards the figures and scenes become frustratingly smaller and less distinct with height and distance.

In ancient times, the column is thought to have been in a courtyard surrounded by a galleried complex, which would at least have elevated some onlookers to view higher sections of the sculptures on their level. This problem is solved at the other two casts. The National Museum of Romanian History in Bucharest and the Museum of Roman Civilization in Rome have straightened the casts and wall-mounted them. They detail can thus be inspected close up, although the monumental effect of them marching around a column is quite lost.

The V&A’s bold project to illuminate this talisman of Roman and Romanian history with live visual and musical performances, are on Friday the 6th of December and Friday the 17th of January. Entry to the museum and the event is free and the museum is open until 10pm on Fridays. Visit the V&A Museum website and see the Romanian Cultural Institute’s website to register for one if its related screenings, talks and exhibitions to celebrate the column’s anniversary.


The Vendôme column, like Trajan’s column was funded using war spoils. The battle at Austerlitz provided France with war spoils enabling Napoleon to build the column. By using hard earned war spoils, Napoleon was showing the similarity between himself and Trajan. Perhaps, hoping that people would compare himself to Trajan- widely recognised as a military…

The Vendôme column is built in Place Vendôme (fig.1.), Paris. This area, similarly to Trajan’s forum was a public area for the people of France to use for their own wishes. Again, much like Trajan’s forum, the propaganda which firstly the monarchy were able to share through this area- and later Napoleon, is hugely important…


Carved into the structure are 2,662 figures in 155 scenes. Trajan appears in 58 of them. Viewers were meant to follow the story from bottom to top standing in one place rather than circling the column 23 times, as the frieze does. Key scenes could be seen from two main vantage points (A and B in the graphic).

Carved into the structure are 2,662 figures in 155 scenes. Trajan appears in 58 of them. Viewers were meant to follow the story from bottom to top standing in one place rather than circling the column 23 times, as the frieze does. Key scenes could be seen from two main vantage points (A and B in the graphic).

Breakdown of Activity


Trajan's Column comes to life in Rome

Rome&rsquos most impressive novelties tend to be ancient, emerging after millennia from below ground. Viewable after a descent of two or three storeys below Palazzo Valentini on Via IV Novembre, one gazes, courtesy of a vertiginous glass floor, down on what must be a contender for the world&rsquos largest column.

There it lies on its side, a single stretch of grey granite, two metres in diameter. It is the dramatic outcome of excavations begun in 2010 and pending further investigation, it is posited as being one of the supports of the temple to Trajan and his wife Plotina, until now vanished in time. Nearby and deeper still &ndash this tour is not for those with a fear of heights &ndash one can peer down an illuminated core into what was the column&rsquos base, while behind that plummets a mediaeval well.

Adding to the fourth-century AD Domus Romanae in Palazzo Valentini, the underground tour also uses virtual technology to recreate the images on the better-known Trajan&rsquos Column in Trajan's Forum. On the screen unfolds, scene by chilling scene, the newsreel of Trajan&rsquos invasions of Dacia (present-day Romania), the narrative probably following Trajan&rsquos own commentaries, a lost equivalent of Caesar&rsquos Gallic Wars. Small wonder that the sculptor of the column &ndash possibly Apollodorus from Damascus, the architect of much of Trajan&rsquos Forum &ndash became an inspiration to those of the 14th-century Renaissance.

No mere propagandist, the sculptor manages to depict war in all its fierceness and cruelty, and now virtual technology has converted the original panels into even more graphic 3-D. The Roman soldiery appears, as surely it did to the Dacian enemy, extremely well drilled yet often mercilessly mechanical. Less well armoured and at a technological disadvantage, the Dacians emerge as both more human and vulnerable.

In one scene a fallen Dacian pleads for his life in another, defeated locals seek shelter under the shields of dead comrades. Elsewhere Roman soldiers dangle decapitated heads from their teeth. More shocking still is seeing naked Roman soldiers with hands tied behind their backs and being tortured by Dacian women in a &ldquoclip&rdquo modern newsreels would censor.

In another scene the besieged Dacians are seen taking poison rather than fall into Roman hands, while the penultimate panel has Decebulus, the proud Dacian leader, slitting his throat beneath a tree. War, however, is treated not just in terms of blood, but also of logistics. The lower panels show the Romans setting up base camp. Communication torches flare from pre-built towers, relaying dispatches back to Rome, while a river-god emerges from the Danube to wish &ndash rather treacherously one might say from a Dacian viewpoint &ndash the invaders well. We see a man falling off a wall, Trajan quick to take this as a favourable omen for the fall of the whole Dacian people.

There are soldiers cutting trees, there is a bridge of ships. Then higher up the column, preluding the second campaign, there is a bridge of stone. As important as courting public opinion in present-day wars, both ancient campaigns depict Trajan making sacrifices of wine and animals to the gods: Jove responds higher up the column by launching thunderbolts. A further reminder that, as Lucretius complained, Mars not Venus was the deity of Rome, at the siege of the curvy-walled Dacian capital Sarmizegusta Roman military hardware is only too evident, along with the Dacians&rsquo subsequent scorched earth policy.

Originally all the scenes would have been visible from terraces positioned along the two adjacent libraries on one side of Trajan&rsquos Forum and the Ulpian basilica on the other, the marble column being an innovation that was longer-lasting than the ephemeral painted panels of victories previously carried in Roman triumphs. Like the rest of Trajan&rsquos Forum, both libraries and basilica with their viewing terraces have been largely carted away by Goths, Huns or Roman nobles.

Until recently it was impossible to follow the whole narrative up close. For a completely cinematic view one would have to have been 40 metres tall, or the height of the hill that was levelled to make room for Trajan&rsquos Column in the forum. In Renaissance times one Iacopo Ripanda partly got round the problem of viewing difficulties by lowering himself down the column in a basket lassoed to the top, then making drawings as he descended.

From the end of the Roman empire hermits who had a penchant for heights frequented the column. In fact, in the 1300s a chapel was built at the bottom of the column. The verger, also a hermit, placed a bell at the top. From then on both chapel and column enjoyed papal protection. In 1587 Sixtus V, after a rite of exorcism against any remaining pagan demons, placed a statue of St Peter on the summit. The column became something of a money-spinner, pilgrims paying to climb the 185 steps of the internal staircase for one of Rome&rsquos top views.

Trajan&rsquos immortalisation device had taken a turn that neither he nor Plotina, his wife and campaign companion &ndash their ashes mingled in a golden urn at the base of the column &ndash could have foreseen. All of a sudden Trajan &ndash deified along with Plotina by Hadrian, his successor and adoptive son &ndash was seriously downsized. Yet now after a five-century gap his feats are again clearly on show, more graphic than ever. A section of a large column now visible under the present day Palazzo Valentini may be part of the long-lost Temple of Trajan.

By Martin Bennett

Published originally in the May 2012 edition of Wanted in Rome magazine.


Trajan's column

The Cast Courts are dominated by this massive reproduction of Trajan’s Column in two parts. The Roman Emperor Trajan commissioned the original monumental structure to commemorate his conquest of Dacia, now Romania. The column took seven years to complete and has stood in Rome ever since, surviving for nearly 2000 years.

In the early 1860s, Napoleon III ordered a mould to be made of the column. A metal copy, or electrotype, was made in pieces from this mould, and then sets of plaster cast copies were produced from the electrotype. In 1864, the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) bought one of these sets.

Measuring 35 metres high, the column copy was too tall to be constructed at full height within the Museum building at the time. So in 1873, the Museum built the Architectural Courts to house its growing collection of monumental copies. These are the galleries in which you are standing today. The height of the Courts was determined by Trajan’s Column, but even then they could only be built high enough to display the column in two sections, assembled around inner brick chimneys.

  • Cast of Perhaps Apollodorus of Damascus Trajan’s Column AD 106–113 The Cast Courts are dominated by this massive reproduction of Trajan’s Column in two parts. The Roman Emperor Trajan commissioned the original monumental structure to commemorate his conquest of Dacia, now Romania. The column took seven years to complete and has stood in Rome ever since, surviving for nearly 2000 years. In the early 1860s, Napoleon III ordered a mould to be made of the column. A metal copy, or electrotype, was made in pieces from this mould, and then sets of plaster cast copies were produced from the electrotype. In 1864, the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) bought one of these sets. Measuring 35 metres high, the column copy was too tall to be constructed at full height within the Museum building at the time. So in 1873, the Museum built the Architectural Courts to house its growing collection of monumental copies. These are the galleries in which you are standing today. The height of the Courts was determined by Trajan’s Column, but even then they could only be built high enough to display the column in two sections, assembled around inner brick chimneys. Cast About 1864 Painted plaster Probably Rome, Italy Museum no. Repro.1864-128 Original Carved marble Rome, Italy(21/06/2018)
  • This massive reproduction of Trajan's Column in Rome was produced in Paris in the mid-19th century. The sequence of plaster cast reliefs showing Emperor Trajan's Dacian campaigns are mounted on two gigantic brick columns. The monument at the V&A is a tremendous feat of both 19th-century engineering and casting in plaster. The casts were made from metal versions produced by craftsmen working under the direction of Emperor Napoleon III in 1862. These were once displayed at the Louvre, and now survive in parts at the Château of St Germain en Laye, just outside Paris. Most of the plasters at the V&A were acquired from a M. Oudry in Paris in 1864, with a second tranche of casts completing the sequence arriving at the Museum in 1870-2, at a total cost of just under £2,500. Another set of plaster copies is in Rome at the Museum of Roman Civilisation, and a third at the National Museum of Romanian History, Bucharest. Separate plaster panels are to be found in other collections elsewhere. When first acquired by South Kensington in the 1860s the cast reliefs could not be accommodated on high columns, and were shown mounted on smaller structures in the Museum. Once the Architectural Courts (now the Cast Courts) were built in 1873, they could all be shown on the two tall brick cores to be seen there today. Each plaster section was individually numbered, so that the columns could be assembled like an enormous jigsaw puzzle, reflecting the sequence of the marble original. This vast simulacrum of the original column in Rome allowed students, scholars and innumerable other visitors to the Museum to admire this great relic of the classical world. Trajan's Column in Rome was erected to commemorate the two successful campaigns of the Emperor Trajan against the Dacians along the Danube frontier in AD 101-2 and 105-6. It was designed and constructed probably under the supervision of the architect Apollodorus of Damascus, and stood at the focal point of Trajan’s Forum in the Imperial City. Its form is a hollow shaft built of 29 blocks of Carrara marble, 3.83 metres in diameter at the base, rising to a height of 38 metres, including the square plinth upon which it stands, and the capital that surmounts it. An internal spiral staircase of 185 steps, lit by narrow windows, gives access to the platform above. The continuous frieze in low relief depicting the history of Trajan's campaigns winds up and around the column for a total length of over 200 metres, depicting over 2500 individual figures. In antiquity, placed as it was between the two libraries of the Forum, the reliefs could be studied at close quarters up to a certain height, the whole sculpted surface picked out in colour and enriched with metal accessories. Trajan's ashes were buried in a chamber at the base of the column, and it was once surmounted by a colossal bronze statue of the Emperor (lost in the Middle Ages). This statue was replaced in 1587 by the present bronze figure of St Peter, made by Bastiano Torrigiano (d.1596). The cast of Trajan's Column at the V&A inspires awe and wonder amongst visitors to the Cast Courts, and is much studied by students of classical archaeology and art history. This is partly because the figurative forms and lettering can be seen more clearly here than those on the weathered original in Rome. The inscription at the base of the column is also of great importance. It is possibly the most famous example of Roman square capitals, a script often used for monuments. The calligraphy has long been acclaimed, and is emulated even today, inspiring modern typefaces. Holly Trusted

Making plaster copies is a centuries-old tradition that reached the height of its popularity during the 19th century. The V&A's casts are of large-scale architectural and sculptural works as well as small scale, jewelled book covers and ivory plaques, these last known as fictile ivories.

The Museum commissioned casts directly from makers and acquired others in exchange. Oronzio Lelli, of Florence was a key overseas supplier while, in London, Giovanni Franchi and Domenico Brucciani upheld a strong Italian tradition as highly-skilled mould-makers, or formatori.

Some casts are highly accurate depictions of original works, whilst others are more selective, replicating the outer surface of the original work, rather than its whole structure. Like a photograph, they record the moment the cast was taken: alterations, repairs and the wear and tear of age are all reproduced in the copies. The plasters can also be re-worked, so that their appearance differs slightly from the original from which they were taken.

To make a plaster cast, a negative mould has to be taken of the original object. The initial mould could be made from one of several ways. A flexible mould could be made by mixing wax with gutta-percha, a rubbery latex product taken from tropical trees. These two substances formed a mould that had a slightly elastic quality, so that it could easily be removed from the original object. Moulds were also made from gelatine, plaster or clay, and could then be used to create a plaster mould to use for casting.

When mixed with water, plaster can be poured into a prepared mould, allowed to set, and can be removed to produce a finished solid form. The moulds are coated with a separating or paring agent to prevent the newly poured plaster sticking to them. The smooth liquid state and slight expansion while setting allowed the quick drying plaster to infill even the most intricate contours of a mould.

Flatter, smaller objects in low relief usually require only one mould to cast the object. For more complex objects, with a raised surface, the mould would have to be made from a number of sections, known as piece-moulds. These pieces are held together in the so-called mother-mould, in order to create a mould of the whole object. Once the object has been cast from this mother-mould, the piece-moulds can be easily removed one by one, to create a cast of the three-dimensional object.

The Cast Courts are dominated by this massive reproduction of Trajan’s Column in two parts. The Roman Emperor Trajan commissioned the original monumental structure to commemorate his conquest of Dacia, now Romania. The column took seven years to complete and has stood in Rome ever since, surviving for nearly 2000 years.

In the early 1860s, Napoleon III ordered a mould to be made of the column. A metal copy, or electrotype, was made in pieces from this mould, and then sets of plaster cast copies were produced from the electrotype. In 1864, the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) bought one of these sets.

Measuring 35 metres high, the column copy was too tall to be constructed at full height within the Museum building at the time. So in 1873, the Museum built the Architectural Courts to house its growing collection of monumental copies. These are the galleries in which you are standing today. The height of the Courts was determined by Trajan’s Column, but even then they could only be built high enough to display the column in two sections, assembled around inner brick chimneys.

  • Trusted, Majorie. ed. The Making of Sculpture: the Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: V&A Publications, 2007, pp. 162-163, pl. 312
  • Cormier, Brendan and Thom, Danielle, eds. A World of Fragile Parts, London, 2016, pp. 17, 35, 36, 114.
  • Rebecca Knott, 'Trajan's Column' in Angus Patterson and Marjorie Trusted ed. The Cast Courts. V&A, London, 2018, pp 40-45.
  • Rebecca Knott, ' Roman Capitals: Cast of Trajan's Column' in 'Calligraphy and Lettering: A Maker's Guide'. Thames & Hudson, V&A, 2019. pp34-35.

History

Evidence of comics, according to McCloud’s definition, can be traced as far back as the Ancient Egyptian Empire. In example, the tomb of the artisan and scribe Menna is covered with comic murals depicting Egyptian life. The Romans built Trajan’s column with a spiral series of pictures depicting Trajan’s role in both Dacian wars (Rockwell). The Japanese have scrolls with sequential imagines known as emaki, the Chogu giga as an early example (Emaki Unrolled). Comics have been found in ancient Mexico, France, and Greece they do not look like today’s comics, but they are comics nonetheless (McCloud 10-15). Comics owe a lot to the printing press, since it started the kick-off for drawings and works to work together to speak to the common persons. Comics were first used for propaganda that could speak to the literate and non-literate. With people having access to cheap printing options, the ability to print an original comic at a low price in exchange for publication was a reality. By giving more access to the public it allowed comics to expand in a territory it very likely would have been snubbed.

Though comics are a rich part of world history, the United States has its own unique history of comics. At the end of the 19 th century Richard Felton Outcault created “Down Hogan’s Alley”, a one-panel cartoon. Within the drawing was a bald boy only in a frock. Soon after his first appearance, “the World’s engravers were experimenting with color inks and in a test yellow was added to his frock (the strip was at first only black & white) and the gap toothed urchin was named the “Yellow Kid” and would go down in history as the first comic strip” (Halegua). It was originally drawn to sell newspapers. Not long after, James Swinnerton, had his one-panel comic “Little Bears” published, which later turned out to be popular and evolved over time (Halegua).

Rudolph Dirk’s “Katzenjammer Kids” set the sails for the traditional comic format today. Released in December 12, 1897, “Katzenjammer Kids” applied word balloons and a strip panel to tell the story. “The Katzenjammers combined both the aspect of internal dialogue and panelized continuity, and in the process designed and solidified the form of the modern visual narrative strip” (Halegua). With the introduction of four colors of ink for newsprint (black, red, yellow, and blue), newspapers clamored for humorous comic strips to bedeck their pages.

By the early 1900s there were over 150 strips in print. “Each daily or Sunday installment was a singular episode and no reference was ever made to yesterday’s strip. The medium would remain relatively unchanged for almost thirty years” (Halegua). The first person to deviate from the pattern was Winsor McCay with his “Little Nemo in Slumberland” (1905-1911). It was the first comic series that ran for several weeks and the first in the fantasy genre. The adventure strip was born with Roy Crane in 1924 with “Washington Tubbs II” (Halegua).

History continued to build upon the new narrative idea of a comic book with Edgar Rice Burroughs’s science fiction comic “Under the Moon of Mars” in 1912 he later published Tarzan. Dick Tracy also appeared for the first time in 1931. The next biggest change came in 1933 when “Maxwell Gaines (father of William F. Gaines, EC & Mad publisher) came up with the idea of printing an 8 page comic section that could be folded down from the large broadsheet to a smaller 9 inch by 12 inch format. The result was the first modern comic book” (Halegua). Gaines and other companies began to print the comic strips into booklets to sell outside of the paper. National Periodicals, in 1935, printed a comic book called New Fun Comics which were new and never featured in a book before then (Halegua).

In 1938, the Cleveland, Ohio boys Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman. By 1941, the comic books and comic strips had been separated. Comic books were geared towards super heroes whereas, comic strips were what we know today as the funnies (Halegua). On the academic side of things, comic books were beginning to merge with classic literature. Albert Kanter, a Russian immigrant in the 1940s, started Classics Illustrated, classic literature in comic book form, in the hopes to lure children from popular literature and towards classic books by piquing interest with comic adaptions. His comic books differed from others in that they were usually twice as long, featured educational articles in place of advertisements, and that there were reprints ready to order and distribute. At the end of each book was a written invitation for the reader to find the actual book at a local library (Versaci 185-186).

It was around the late 40s that the beginning of scantily clad women with large breasts and uncomfortable poses began to show up in comic books. Congressmen began to wage war on comic books, in fear of what they were doing to the children. With articles being published stating that comics were the cause of bad teenage behavior (like today’s accusations against video games and television), comics were banned from schools, stores, and even companies stopped making them. By 1955, the effects were the strongest. Only two companies remained from the purging DC and Atlas (later to become Marvel) (Halegua).

Super heroes came back into popularity during World War II, though under the heavy hand of new Comics Code that regulated what could be published. By the 1960s Superheroes were taking the comic world by storm, DC introducing The Justice League of America. Marvel struck back with the Fantastic Four, beginning the rival between the two companies we see today (Halegua). They two longest standing and largest comic book superhero companies in the business with a lot of power comes a lot of responsibility. Especially when it comes to writing and publishing the role models of today.


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