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Rome from the Ponte Molle
National Museum Wales, Cardiff
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Rome from the Ponte Molle
1754
Oil on canvas
100.5 x 137 cm
39 9/16 x 53 15/16 in.
NMW A 70
P64
An evening view of Rome seen in the distance from near the Ponte Molle (Ponte Milvio or Milvian Bridge), constructed in 109 BC. It was on the usual route into the city for the 18th century traveller approaching from the north. The bridge, shown at an oblique angle to the left, retains its 15th century guard tower, since demolished. To the right, in silhouette at the summit of Monte Mario, is the Villa Mellini, while nearer and lower is the Villa Madama. In the centre beyond the winding Tiber, the dome of St Peter's is prominent and, some way to the left, is the Castel Sant' Angelo (Mausoleum of Hadrian).
A. Tooth & Sons Ltd, London 1950 (22); Montreal 1957 (73); Munich 1958 (225); Moscow 1960 (13); Cardiff, National Museum of Wales, 1961 Richard Wilson (8); London, 1969 (137); Milan Palazzo Reale 1975 (61); Tokyo 1978-9 (727); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (71); Japan, Masterpieces from the National Museum of Wales, 1986-7 (8); Manchester 1988 (27); Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti 2008-9 (4); Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland 2009 (9); Tercentenary 2014 (18)
Probably sold by Wilson with P63 to John Rolle-Walter (1712-1779), uncle of the 1st Lord Rolle of Bicton who visited Rome in 1753; thence by descent; Lord Clinton, Bicton, Devon; Sotheby's 19 July 1950 (145), bt Bernard; Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd, London; purchased by the National Museum of Wales, 1950
Signed and dated on the upright stone lower left: RW | ROMA | 1754
No inscription
Kate Lowry has noted: The painting displays several features which suggest that it may be a later copy. The canvas has a very fine weave and the original tacking margins which have been retained in the lining are not as embrittled and aged in appearance as one would expect from a painting of the given date. The pale pink ground is not the commercial preparation to be expected and consists of only a single layer. The overlying paint layer contains lead-tin yellow which is not normally found in Wilson's paintings. Although X-radiography shows a clear difference between foreground and sky, the foreground tower and the hills to the right were painted in over the sky rather than being planned from the outset, which is a departure from Wilson's procedure. However, the change in the positioning of the poplar trees suggests more than just a straight copy after Wilson.
The Ponte Milvio or Molle was renowned primarily as the place where the Roman Emperor Constantine defeated Maxentius on 28 October 312 AD.
D172 A Roman Altar at Palestrina, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
D228 Ionic Capitals, Private Collection, England
D302 Ponte Molle, Monte Mario, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California
E72/38 Thomas Hastings after Wilson, View on the Tiber with Rome in the Distance, The British Museum and other impressions
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[1] Francis Towne (1739-1816): View on the Banks of the Tiber, watercolour, 1780, The British Museum (Nn,2.12)
[2] Francis Towne (1739-1816): St Peter's at Sunset, from above the Arco Oscuro, watercolour, 1781, The British Museum (Nn,1.14)
[3] Francis Towne (1739-1816): The Ponte Molle, watercolour, 1781, The British Museum (Nn,1.20)
Although it appears at first sight that the distant buildings and hills depicted could not have been seen from one viewpoint, casting this as an amalgamation of several different views assembled to create an ideal landscape, Robin Simon has convincingly argued that Wilson in fact plotted the features of the landscape with great precision. His chosen point of view was at the sharp right angle turn taken by the Via Flaminia as it changes direction to cross the Tiber. This was the junction of the Via Flaminia with the Via Cassia, which ran behind and parallel with the brick arches on the right. It approached Rome from Florence and the north, whence come the traveller or pilgrim with his staff conversing in the centre. From their confluence the roads continued as one into Rome, making the junction a site of great emotional significance as an introduction or valediction to the Eternal City. Furthermore, Wilson seems to have been the first artist to have chosen this view. The painting is close to the equally closely observed drawing D302 in the Dartmouth series (see 'Related Drawings').
Old Accession Number: 50.417
Old Registration Number: 727
1950.1
Ford 1952, p. 312, fig. 6; WGC, pp. 35, 71, 82, 100, 160, 219-20, pl. 109b; NMW 1955. p. 125, no. 727, pl. 5a; A. Schoenberger & H. Soehner, The Age of Rococo, 1958, p. 384, pl. 274; Cardiff 1961, pp. 14-15; Constable 1962, pp. 138-45; Howard 1969, p. 732, fig. 23; Herrmann 1973, p.54, pl. 47, col.pl. V; Solkin 1982 pp. 49, 187-9, pl. 71; Hawcroft 1988, pp. 29-30; Hamilton 2009, p.17, pl. 9; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 218
Kate Lowry has noted: Original simple weave fine linen canvas with 19 threads per sq cm each way. Original turnovers have been retained and lined onto the face of the present stretcher. No damages to original canvas visible in X-ray. Lined onto slightly coarser weave cotton duck using glue-paste adhesive. Pine stretcher dates from lining. Pale pink/brown oil ground, underlies all paint film but does not extend onto turnovers. Sky has been underpainted with white prior to laying in blue to reduce the pink effect of the ground. Pink effects around the tree foliage are produced by painting on top of sky rather than by leaving ground exposed. Foreground darks are underpainted with transparent warm brown to increase their depth. Pentiment of another tree visible to left of poplar trees. Widespread mature cracks particularly visible in sky. No drying cracks. Discoloured retouches visible in foliage and upper branches of pine trees at left and around the ionic capital centre bottom edge. Foliage on hill at right has been retouched to make more solid. Some minor retouches in sky.