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Cicero with his Friend Atticus and Brother Quintus at his Villa at Arpinum
Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Cicero with his Friend Atticus and Brother Quintus at his Villa at Arpinum
c.1769-70 (undated)
Oil on canvas
91.5 x 129.7 cm
36 x 51 1/16 in.
WA2007.155
P162
The Roman orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) is shown conversing with his friend Quintus and his brother Atticus at Arpinum. As described in his De Legibus (Concerning the Laws), a treatise on natural justice and the nature of the law, Cicero and his friends stand in a grove near an old oak tree, which Atticus recognises from a poem by Cicero. The discussion turns to a secluded island in the distance, where the villa of Cicero's birth is visible, and where he goes for 'undisturbed meditation, or uninterrupted reading or writing'. This conversation takes place on an island in the middle of the River Fibrenus on Cicero's native estate. The friends remark on how the serenity of the landscape inspires them with wisdom and creativity. From the dominion of nature, Cicero extrapolates his ideals for social order in Rome, while it is only through his inspired poetry and philosophies that Atticus perceives the perfection of nature itself. In the foreground two rivers conjoin and flow off left - one flowing from right to the left and the other, streaming from the left, meeting it at the rocks in the centre.
RA 1770 (201 -a version); BI 1814 (115/118 -Cicero at his Villa, lent William Fitzhugh); BI 1842 (166 - lent Revd W.A. Fitzhugh); BI 1860 (183 - lent Joseph Bond); London, Agnews, November 1938; London, Agnews, Neo-classical Paintings, October 1972 (10); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (130)
Sir John Smith, Sydling House, Sydling St Nicholas, Dorset; by 1814, William Fitzhugh; Revd W.A. Fitzhugh; Fitzhugh sale Christie's 22 May 1843 (79), bt Atherstone; John Rushout, 2nd Lord Northwick (1769-1859), Thirlestaine House, Cheltenham; sold Phillips at Thirlestaine House,12 August 1859 (1182), bt Farrer; Col. N. Bailey; by 1860, Joseph Bond; sold Christie's 2 May 1874 (79), bt Agnew's (#8498); 18 May 1874, bt by Sir Charles Mills; William Wallis (Monour Lodge) sale, Bradley, Newton & Lamb, Sydney, Australia, 28 January 1886 (130); Anon sale Christie's December 1937 (127), bt Agnew; 1945 bt Dr William L. Glen, Canada; sold to Agnew's 1971; with Thomas Agnew & Sons 1972; accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the Ashmolean Museum, 2007
Signed lower right: RW [monogram, R reversed]
[1] Frame upper right white chalk inverted: WG 936
[2] Stretcher upper left white chalk: WG 936 ENG
[3] Stretcher lower left black stencil: WG936
[1] Verso frame upper left. Tate 1982 typed: Private Collection / Richard Wilson / Cicero & his Friends at his Villa / Artist: Richard Wilson / Cat No: 130
[2] Verso upper vertical stretcher centre black ink: CICERO'S VILLA [by] RICHARD WILSON
[3] Horizontal stretcher left [printed]: FROM THE ART ASSOCIATION / OF MONTREAL [typed]: Lent by Dr W.L. Glen / 20125 Lakeshore Road / Baie d'Urfe, P.Q.
[4] Horizontal stretcher left centre printed Agnew's label: 34573
[5] Horizontal/vertical stretcher crossing printed Agnews label: 11509
[6] Lower vertical stretcher printed Agnews label: 44121
[7] Frame lower left Christie's label :1153 0368 / FULL PAGE / WG 936 / RI.6 / ENG 7238
The Volscian hill town of Arpinum lies in the province of Frosinone, 70 miles south-east of Rome. Founded by the 7th century BC., it was captured by the Romans in 305 BC. Marcus Tullius Cicero was born on 3 January 106 BC at the family home just outside Arpinum. Cicero's family belonged to the local nobility and had connections with leading political figures in Rome. His provincial origin would define and haunt Cicero's life and career and differentiate him from, for example, his life-long friend and confidant, Titus Pomponius Atticus, who was a Roman born and bred. This is clear from the dialogue, De Legibus, which he composed in the late 50s and which contains the following exchange:
Cicero: Now, when it is possible for me to get away for more days, especially at this time of year, I make for the beauty and the healthy climate of this place, though it is seldom possible. But there is in fact another reason that gives me pleasure, which does not apply to you, Titus.
Atticus: And what is that?
Cicero: This is, to tell the truth, my own and my brother's real fatherland. Here are the most ancient roots from which we are descended; here are our family shrines, here our family, here the many traces of our ancestors.
(Cicero, De Legibus, 2.3-5)
D178 Arpinum, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
D371 Study for 'Cicero and his Friends', Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
E45 William Woollett after Wilson, Cicero at his Villa, The British Museum and other impressions
See 'Links' tab
[1] Claude Lorrain St George and the Dragon, 1643, Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut
[2] John Robert Cozens, Cicero's Villa, watercolour, 1779, Private Collection, England
As noted in Solkin 2015, this painting demonstrates Wilson's mastery of all the basic requirements of the Grand Style. This appears to be the first time that any painter had illustrated Cicero's treatise on law and no doubt one of the artist's aims in exhibiting this or another version of the subject in the second exhibition of the newly-founded Royal Academy was to parade his erudition.
Although the general location of Cicero's villa at Arpino, southeast of Rome (one of at least nine properties he owned) was widely known in the 18th century, Wilson's landscape is remarkably unspecific and as suggested by David Solkin (1978), was quite possibly based on his familiar Welsh scenery. However, the building itself bears some resemblance to one at another site associated with Cicero - the Villa Rufinella (now the Grand Hotel Villa Tuscolana) at Frascati, near the site of the ancient Tusculum. Timothy Wilcox has plausibly argued that during his years in Italy Wilson saw the Villa Rufinella, which was being rebuilt for the Jesuits by the architect Luigi Vanvitelli from 1740. There is indeed a similarity in the nine bay façade, though the chronology of its remodelling and thus the layout that Wilson might have known, is unclear. Also, the Villa Rufinella stands on a north-facing slope, rather than in a valley, as is the case with the villa in this painting and at Arpinum.

As noted by Constable (p. 94) the design is similar to that of P166 View near Wynnstay, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, with much the same arrangement of light and shade and similar treatment of the trees and of the distance.
A1284
Pott 1782, p. 30; G. Harding, Biographical Memoirs of the Revd Sneyd Davies, 1816, p. 77; Art News, vol. 37, no. 13, 24 December 1938, p. 17; WGC, pp.73, 95-6, 168, pl. 27a; Solkin 1978, pp. 409-10, fig. 5; Solkin 1982, pp. 235-236, no.130; C. Harrison, The Ashmolean, vol. 54, Spring 2008, pp. 8-10; Solkin 2015, pp. 220-21
George Harding recorded in his memoirs about his father (1816), 'My Father desired him (the celebrated painter Wilson) to paint one of Tully's villas. He did so; and, as a help to the picturesque in the portrait of the scene as he found it introduced the orator and his friends. An arch critic recommended that he should whiten their faces, and make them Spirits'.
Relined and backed in melinex. Thin, even and glossy varnish, discoloured in places. Small areas of abrasion along the frame rebate along the lower edge. Dimensions with frame: 113.5 x 149.6 x 80 cm.
08/08/2017