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The West Belvedere at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli (View in the Ruins of Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli)
Tate, London 2014
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The West Belvedere at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli (View in the Ruins of Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli)
c.1765 (undated)
Oil on canvas
35.6 x 25.4 cm
14 x 10 in.
N00302
P138
SA 1764 (135 or 136 - a version); BI 1841 (99 - lent Vernon); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (107); London 1993 (76)
Probably bt by Robert Vernon in 1835; certainly by 1841; presented to the National Gallery 1847; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1955
Unsigned; no inscription
Fine, regular weave canvas. Thread 16 x 17. Fairly thick, whitish ground over whole canvas. Noted by Ann Baxter in 1986: Size between two layers of pigmented priming as in all 1760s and 1770s. Roofline changed from appearance like preparatory drawing and Manchester City Gallery version (P139) to that of a picturesque ruin. The canvas was primed as part of a larger sheet and cut down (shown by cusping). The facture lower right is fairly run of the mill. The tree lower right is painted onto a reserve. The building is thickly painted.
The spectacular site of Tivoli was familiar to all travellers on the Grand Tour through the Roman poets, especially Virgil and Horace. It was also a favourite sketching-ground for artists from the 17th century onwards, a tradition that deeply influenced Wilson. Hadrian's Villa was a complex of palaces, baths, temples, libraries, state rooms and service quarters, which included the greatest Roman example of the Alexandrine garden, recreating a sacred landscape. Built as a retreat for the Emperor Hadrian (76-138 AD) it fell into ruins over the ages. Recently the precise location has been identified by Jonathan Yarker as the West Belvedere of the Villa with a farmhouse above built by Sebastiano Soliardi.
D170 The West Belvedere at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea
D170A Hadrian's Villa, Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery
E42 Michael 'Angelo' Rooker after Wilson In the Villa Adriana Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven and other impressions
E80 Celia Lucy Brightwell after Wilson Hadrian's Villa, The British Museum and other impressions
E83 James Carter after Wilson, Hadrian's Villa The British Museum and other impressions
See 'Links' tab
Pendant P137 The Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli, Tate, London (N00303)
Thomas Girtin, In the Villa Adriana, watercolour,1794, The Britisih Museum (1878,1228.36.+)
Wilson painted this and its pendant (P137 see 'Related Paintings') in about 1765, after his return from Italy. Both scenes are closely based on pencil drawings that he made when he first visited the ancient ruins of Tivoli in 1752 or 1753. The unpretentious composition is explicable on account of the small size. An underlying theme is sic transit gloria mundi - the destruction of past glories through time and neglect. The subject thus held a moral lesson for the viewer. As noted by Solkin, the inherent sentiment may be compared with the conservative views of Oliver Goldsmith in his poemThe Traveller (1764):
'As in those domes, where Caesars once sway,
Defac'd by time, and tottering in decay,
Amidst the ruin, heedless of the dead,
The shelter-seeking peasant builds his shed,
And, wond'ring man could want the larger pile,
Exults, and owns his cottage with a smile'.
(O. Goldsmith, Poems, Belfast, 1775, p.21)
This poetic theme was popular with contemporary writers and painters, who often applied it as an admonition to the increasing British prosperity and global hegemony.
There are numerous references by Wilson's pupil, Joseph Farington, to a work or works bearing the present title.
Davies 1946, pp. 175-76; WGC, pp. 200-2, pl. 81a; Solkin 1982, pp. 217-18; Hamlyn 1993, p. 66; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 257 (cat. 71 but not exhibited).
Wilson drew the Emperor Hadrian's Villa, which had once been the most extravagant of all Roman country palaces, several times. Note the the straight spoke-like lines within the arch. The figure group and the washing are not as sensitive as in the Manchester version.
Dimension framed : 49.5 x 39.5 cm. Relined.Surface cleaned and revarnished 1887. Cleaned February 1978. Surface cleaned 1993. Backboard. Has pale biscuit-coloured ground. Visual examination and sampling by Ann Baxter 1982. X-ray shows changes to the roofline. The canvas was cut down from a larger piece after priming.