This is one of a pair of drawings by Edward Francis Burney which provide a glimpse of daily life at the Royal Academy in the 18th century. Both portray RA students drawing casts of Classical and Renaissance sculptures in the Antique School. Skilful draughtsmanship was essential for aspiring artists at this time and students at the Academy were usually required to spend up to three years drawing casts before they progressed to drawing live models. Most of the casts shown in the drawings are from ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, revered for their (somewhat contradictory) combination of naturalism and supposed ideal beauty.
In the foreground, a group of students draw the figure of Cincinnatus (a Roman statesman).
The Royal Academy occupied several London premises before moving to its current home (Piccadilly’s Burlington House) in 1869. Teaching originally took place in a building on Pall Mall and then at Old Somerset House on the Strand. In 1780 the RA moved into purpose-built rooms in New Somerset House, which are now the galleries of the Courtauld Institute of Art.