Hubert Robert (French, 1733–1808), "La galerie antique” (The Ancient Gallery), plate 10 from the series Les soirées de Rome ... suite de dix planches (Evenings in Rome ... suite of ten plates); etching, 1763–64. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection

 
 

Hubert Robert (French, 1733–1808), “Le sarcophage” (The Sarcophogus), plate 6 from the series Les soirées de Rome ... suite de dix planches (Evenings in Rome ... suite of ten plates); etching, 1763–64. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection

 
 

Hubert Robert (French, 1733–1808), “Le buste” (The Bust), plate 2 from the series Les soirées de Rome ... suite de dix planches (Evenings in Rome ... suite of ten plates); etching, 1763–64. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection

 
 

The Old Testament’s Book of Numbers tells how the prophet Balaam was called upon by King Balak to curse the Israelites, who were entering his land in large numbers. Although Balaam first consulted God, who initially allowed him to do as King Balak had requested, God changed his mind and expressed his anger by sending an angel to prevent Balaam’s mission. At first only Balaam’s ass could see the angel, and Balaam struck it three times for turning off the road before the angel finally appeared to Balaam, the event shown here. While the story is set in the Holy Land, this scene depicts Balaam in front of a dilapidated building that closely resembles the ancient Pantheon in Rome. Dirck Volkertsz. Coornhert (Dutch, 1522–1590), after Maarten van Heemskerck (Dutch, 1498–1574); Balaam and the Angel; etching and engraving, 1554. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection

 
 
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Etienne Du Pérac (French, ca. 1535–1604), “Vestigij del Panteone” (The Pantheon), from the series I vestigi dell' antichità di Roma(Vestiges of the Antiquities of Rome); etching, 1575. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection

 
 

Ruins have the power to evoke and connect a broad range of ideas and meanings, and for this reason have long been imbued with allegorical significance. Bespeaking a condition of former totality, their fragmented state vividly conveys a sense of the passage of time, the fragility of ambition, and the uncertainty of the human condition. Etienne Du Pérac (French, ca. 1535–1604), “Parte del Monte Palatino” (Part of the Palatine Hill), from the series I vestigi dell' antichità di Roma (Vestiges of the Antiquities of Rome); etching, 1575. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection