A Bacchic Procession with Silenus hangs in the finished gallery. The moldings that wrap around the baffle and the manner in which the baffle and frame are painted give the illusion that the drawing not only hangs on the wall, but is set into the wall itself. Illumination throughout the exhibition is kept five times lower than normal because drawings are more sensitive to light than other media.

Text describing the work is silkscreened onto the wall:

This immense drawing is the full-scale cartoon for the right half of The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne, a fresco on the ceiling of the Farnese Gallery in Rome.

Ordinarily, a cartoon of this size would be cut into smaller, more manageable pieces so the designs could be transferred to the painting surface section by section. In the case of frescoes, which had to be painted on wet plaster, the cartoons would often be cut to correspond to the amount of painting that could be completed in one day, before the plaster preparation dried. These daily sections were called giornate, from the Italian word for "day," giorno.

To transfer the composition, the artist laid the cartoon face up on the surface that was to be painted -- in this case wet plaster -- and incised the drawing outlines with a blunt stylus, creating a corresponding indentation in the plaster. Or, the contours could be pricked with a pin, as here, and then dusted with finely powdered chalk or charcoal, leaving a dotted outline on the painting surface.

Photograph Rob Shelley, department of design and installation, National Gallery of Art

Copyright © National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.