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Cicero's Villa and the Gulf of Pozzuoli (The Bay of Baiae from Posilippo)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Cicero's Villa and the Gulf of Pozzuoli (The Bay of Baiae from Posilippo)
c. 1773-80 (undated)
Oil on canvas
43.2 x 53.3 cm
17 x 21 in.
B1981.25.685
P186
A view looking across the bay to distant hills, with buildings; two figures are seated on a mound in the foreground
Brighton 1920 (25 - The Bay of Baiae, from Posilippo); New Haven 1981 (42)
Benjamin Booth, Revd. R.S. Booth; Lady Ford; by descent to Capt. Richard Ford; his sale, Christie's 14 June 1929 (19), bt. Haldane (500 guineas); C. Morland Agnew; Mrs Desmond Whitaker; Thomas Agnew & Sons (#4218), from whom purchased by Paul Mellon, 30 September 1963
Unsigned; no inscription
The figure style and the overall bland blobbiness proclaim the work as late. Shapes are emphasised in 2D rather than 3D. The sky is flat and there is a general deficiency in the articulation of space and the group of architecture, especially the building at the centre. The sea is thinly painted and lifeless. There are few details of boats etc. in the distance, just enough for a late Wilson.
The view is across the Gulf of Pozzuoli towards the port of Misenum and Monte di Procida, with the Isle of Ischia in the background. The shoreline of the Gulf of Pozzuoli, west of Cape Posillipo,was the site of many Roman villas, but the ruin, which Wilson depicts with much the same form as Virgil's tomb, appears now to be lost and covered by the sea. Cicero mentions his Villa Puteolana in several letters, delighting in the walk to nearby Lake Avernus. According to Pliny he called it his Academy. Consequently it was a spot much sought out by eighteenth-century visitors, as were Cicero's numerous other villas near Rome and Naples.
E72/12 Thomas Hastings after Wilson, The Bay of Baiae from Posilupo, The British Museum (1854,0708.69) and other impressions
No other versions are known, but WGC p. 196 describes four lost paintings which may be similar
Wilson visited Naples and the surrounding area in 1752, in 1753 or 1754 with Lord Dartmouth and again in 1756. The painting is typical of the repetitions of his Italian scenes that Wilson painted probably during the 1770s. Fresher than many of these but very loosely handled, it captures the atmosphere of the bay with its prominent reminder of more glorious days and a ruin in the foreground.
Booth Notes Doc. 9 (24); Wright 1824, p. 272; WGC, p. 196, pl. 73a; Cormack 1985, pp. 254 & 255
Kate Lowry has noted: All original turnovers retained at time of paste lining. Original canvas is a simple diagonal weave with 12 warp threads x 13 wefts per sq cm. The lining and original are fastened to the stretcher with hand-made tacks suggesting the relining is of some age. X-radiograph shows strong weave cusping at lower and right hand edges. Commercially prepared white oil ground present on all tacking margins. Presence of largely lead white ground confirmed with XRF. IR imaging shows no underdrawing but emphasises the donkey's pentiment. X-ray image also suggests that the sky at right above the bluff has been heavily reworked in lead white and this has subsequently been hidden by the poplar tree at right hand edge. Under magnification the sky appears to have been badly over-cleaned with many tiny pits and tunnels visible in the paint surface. XRF examination showed the presence of earth colours and Prussian blue in the landscape and foliage. Readings for the blue sky were inconclusive but is probably Prussian blue. Zinc appeared in some readings but probably due to later retouching. Under UV light there are many small retouches scattered across the sky. The mountain visible in the X-ray image is more pointed and viewed in raking light it is possible to see how Wilson had flattened out its lefthand slope as he painted.The strange dent in the top of the distant hill may be largely due to a retouched paint loss. The foreground is less retouched. There is a general yellowish fluorescence from the varnish under UV light.