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The Lake of Nemi or Speculum Dianae (The Lake of Nemi with Diana and Callisto)
The Trustees of Jane, Lucy and Charles Hoare, Stourhead, Wiltshire, National Trust
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The Lake of Nemi or Speculum Dianae (The Lake of Nemi with Diana and Callisto)
c. 1758 (undated)
Oil on canvas
75.6 x 97.2 cm
29 3/4 x 38 1/4 in.
NT732391L/STO/P/997
P127A
Wilson has restored the ruined Roman Temple of Diana, just below the town of Nemi itself, to its original shape. It is shown halfway up the opposite shore to the west, with the largely medieval town above and Monte Calvarone beyond. In the foreground, Diana with her hounds points accusingly at Callisto, who is accompanied by two other nymphs. A deer is drinking from the lake in the middle distance at the left. Behind, tiny white figures and animals are scattered across the landscape. There is a waterfall and its reflection can be seen to the right of the temple.
London 1870 (41); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (77); London, Paris and Madrid 2009-10 (12); Tercentenary 2014 (92)
Seemingly sold by the artist for £30 to Henry Hoare II (1705-1785) of Stourhead, 1758; thence by descent; Christie's Stourhead Heirlooms Sale, 2 June 1883 (11), bt Grindley for another branch of the Hoare family; by descent to Jane, Lucy and Charles Hoare, from whose Trustees on loan to Stourhead since 1983
Unsigned; no inscription
There is a pentiment in the foliage, upper right
Callisto was a nymph seduced by Jupiter when disguised as Diana. The scene comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses book 2, lines 401-530 and especially 441-465, where the virgin huntress has just discovered her handmaiden's pregnancy and is banishing her. Callisto's child will be the forefather of the Arcadian people. Since ancient times Lake Nemi had been associated with the cult of the goddess. Virgil and other classical writers had described the smooth, rounded lake as the Speculum Dianae or Mirror of Diana and as such, it was frequently mentioned in 18th century guide-books. Her famous sanctuary, the Grove of Diana, was on the northern shore of the lake, beneath the little town of Nemi (in Latin, Nemus Aricinum). The classical connotations of the lake are here strengthened by the introduction of Diana herself, chastising the errant nymph. The subject was particularly appropriate for Stourhead, where Henry Hoare 'the Magnificent', first owner of the present picture, had been trying to achieve a comparable blend of Italianate scenery, antique mythology and Grand Style landscape art since the early 1740s.
E13 Wood after Wilson, The Lake of Nemi or Speculum Dianæ, The British Museum
E82 Marvy after Wilson, Lake Nemi or Speculum Dianæ, The British Museum
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Gaspard Dughet Ideal Landscape ,c.1658-60, Glasgow Museums & Art Gallery
J.M.W Turner Lake Avernus, Aeneas and the Sibyl, c. 1798, Tate, London
This is the only known composition by Wilson to depict mythological figures within a specific topographical setting. Callisto is clothed in diaphanous drapery (not naked). She is sitting on a hollow tree trunk, which may be symbolic of her destruction. Diana's hounds are shown as greyhounds. Compositionally Wilson has drawn as much on Poussin as on Dughet in this rigorously controlled work, yet there seems to be no relation between the shadow on the foreground rock, the nearby trees or the direction of the lighting.
L/STO/P/997
WGC, p. 165 (lost version of pl. 24a); Solkin 1981, pp. 410-11, fig. 23; Solkin 1982, pp. 192-93 (incorrectly illustrated); Solkin 2009, pp. 17, 21, 36, 100, 111-112); Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 277
The area round Lake Nemi enjoyed special respect among landscape painters and Wilson in particular because of its close associations with Gaspard Dughet. This painting is in fact an imitation of a well-known type of Gaspard design. In turn it inspired a drawing by Sir Richard Colt Hoare, The Lake of Avernus and Temple on its Banks (1790, Stourhead, the Hoare Collection), which influenced J.M.W. Turner's Aeneas and the Sibyl (c.1798, Tate London).
Framed in a period rococo frame, 103.5 x 124.5 x 9 cm.
Kate Lowry has noted:
Glue-relined. Original turnovers missing. Original canvas had several tears before lining. These are visible in raking light: right angle tear in sky at upper right in orange leaved branch; vertical tear in foreground rock and horizontal damage in upper centre of sky. Possibly a grey oil ground. Paint applied in a quite liquid way; this is especially notable in the buildings in the background and in the grass and foliage in the foreground. Pentimenti visible in the silhouettes of the mountains and central tower. The shapes of the mountains have been slightly modified and the pointed roof of the tower has been flattened. Varnish quite thick and discoloured yellow. Under UV light there are a few small retouches visible overlying the varnish in the foreground and upper left where an area of drying cracking has been overpainted.