The Prix de Rome was a scholarship for arts students, principally of painting, sculpture, and architecture. It was created, initially for painters and sculptors, in 1663 in France during the reign of Louis XIV. It was an annual bursary for promising artists having proved their talents by completing a very difficult elimination contest. The prize, organised by the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture), was open to their students. From 1666, the award winner could win a stay of three to five years at the Palazzo Mancini in Rome at the expense of the King of France. In 1720, the Académie Royale d’Architecture began a prize in architecture. Six painters, four sculptors, and two architects would be sent to the French Academy in Rome founded by Jean-Baptiste Colbert from 1666.
Expanded after 140 years into five categories, the contest started in 1663 as two categories: painting and sculpture. Architecture was added in 1720. In 1803, music was added, and after 1804 there was a prix for engraving as well. The primary winner took the "First Grand Prize" (called the agréé) and the "Second Prizes" were awarded to the runners-up.
In 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte moved the French Academy in Rome to the Villa Medici with the intention of preserving an institution once threatened by the French Revolution. At first, the villa and its gardens were in a sad state, and they had to be renovated in order to house the winners of the Prix de Rome. In this way, he hoped to retain for young French artists the opportunity to see and copy the masterpieces of antiquity and the Renaissance. Well-known recipients of the Prix de Rome included the architect Tony Garnier, who, instead of concentrating his studies on the ancient ruins, used his time at the Academy (between 1899 and 1904) principally to develop his ideas for the development of a modern industrial city (Une Cité Industrielle, published in 1918), a precursor of later modernist urban and architectural ideas of twentieth century architects such as Le Corbusier.
Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Ernest Chausson, and Maurice Ravel attempted the Prix de Rome, but did not gain recognition. Jacques-Louis David, having failed three years in a row, considered suicide. Ravel tried a total of five times to win the prize, and the last failed attempt in 1905 was so controversial that it led to a complete reorganization of the administration at the Paris Conservatory.
The Prix de Rome was suppressed in 1968 by André Malraux, who was Minister of Culture at the time. Since then, a number of contests have been created, and the academies, together with the Institut de France, were merged by the State and the Minister of Culture. Selected residents now have an opportunity for study during an 18-month (sometimes 2-year) stay at The Academy of France in Rome, which is accommodated in the Villa Medici.
The heyday of the Prix de Rome was during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It was later imitated by the Prix Abd-el-Tif and the Villa Abd-el-Tif in Algiers, 1907-1961, and later Prix d'Indochine including a bursary to visit the École des Beaux-Arts de l'Indochine in Hanoi, 1920-1939, and bursary for residence at the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid, 1929–present.
Read more about Prix De Rome: Winners in The Architecture Category, Winners in The Painting Category, Winners in The Sculpture Category, Winners in The Engraving Category, Winners in The Musical Composition Category, Netherlands
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“I foresee the time when the painter will paint that scene, no longer going to Rome for a subject; the poet will sing it; the historian record it; and, with the Landing of the Pilgrims and the Declaration of Independence, it will be the ornament of some future national gallery, when at least the present form of slavery shall be no more here. We shall then be at liberty to weep for Captain Brown. Then, and not till then, we will take our revenge.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)