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Distant View of Maecenas' Villa, Tivoli (Tivoli, Villa of Maecenas)
Private Collection, England / Photograph by John Hammond
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Distant View of Maecenas' Villa, Tivoli (Tivoli, Villa of Maecenas)
c.1771 (undated)
Oil on canvas
76.2 x 108.5 cm
30 x 42 11/16 in.
Private Collection, England
BB30
P71C
The view is up the gorge of the River Aniene, showing the lower cascades in the middle distance and above them, the ruins of the so-called Villa of Maecenas or Temple of Hercules Victor. In the foreground a standing and kneeling woman are filling water jugs next to a large fragment of classical sculpture leaning against a Corinthian capital, and a severed stone head. To their right behind a large boulder a shepherd drives his flock away across a bridge. The small building on the hillside is the Tempio della Tosse (Temple of Coughing), perhaps a tomb. As noted by David Solkin, however, the foreground and middleground seem to be entirely invented, while the villa itself and the temple are shown on a much lower slope than they occupy in reality.
Brighton 1920 (13 - Italian Landscape); London 1968 (11); Weston 2011 (26); Gainsborough House 2014 (unnumbered)
Painted for Francis Macklay (£26-6-0); Benjamin Booth; Lady Ford; the Revd James Ford; Edmund Ford; Robert Ford; his daughter, Mrs Rogers; Lionel Edwards of Penrose; bequeathed 1961 to his wife's niece, Joanna, Lady Ford
Copy [?] receipt: London Sepr. 12 | Recd. of Francis Macklay Esqr. | the sum of Twenty Six Pounds 6 Shills for a Landkip [?] in fully of all Demands by me | Ric. Wilson 26-6-0
Tivoli was a favoured location of the ancient Romans for their villas of retirement from the heat of Rome. For eighteenth-century Grand Tourists, it was a popular destination, not only because of the ancient remains but also for the spectacle of the outstanding waterfalls thundering down through wooded slopes. The 'Villa of Maecenas' was a key ruin for visitors, partly for its dramatic position but more so as the assumed residence of Maecenas, the greatest Roman patron of luxury and the arts. It was he who gave the poet Horace his Sabine Farm, which was a justification for rural retirement and was the inspiration for many British country houses under construction in the 18th century. The moral focus of the villa has also been emphasised, notably by Solkin, as symbolising the dangers of excessive luxury, not only for ancient Rome but also for contemporary Britain.
D164 Landscape with a large Temple, Victoria & Albert Museum, London
D260 Villa of Maecenas, Tate, London
E72/7 Thomas Hastings after Wilson, The Villa of Maecenas, The British Museum
E77 J. Le Keux after Wilson, Maecenas' Villa at Tivoli, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
E79/2 Robert Brandard after Wilson, Maecenas' Villa at Tivoli, The British Museum
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[1] Claude-Joseph Vernet The Falls of Tivoli (1753, WGC pl. 151b)
[2] Francis Towne (1739-1816): The Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli from below the Falls, watercolour, 1781, The British Museum (Nn,3.8)
The date proposed is taken from the inscription on Thomas Hastings's etching of the subject (E72/7): 'Painted by R. Wilson | 1771'.
Booth Notes Doc. 8; Booth Notes Doc. 9 (48); WGC, pp. 34, 46, 75, 225, pl. 117b (version 2); Walpole Society 1998-I, p. 18, BB30; Williams 2011, p. 36
A memorandum stated by Mrs Jameson to be by Wilson himself (Handbook to the Public Galleries, I, 1842, p. 117), quoted by W.G. Constable and discussed by Martin Davies, reads as follows: 'The drawing was taken on the | Spot by Mr. Wilson in the year 1754 in company with the Earls of | Pembroke, Thanet and Essex and Ld Viscount Bolingbroke | who dined and spent the day together on the Spot under a Large | Tree. The Dress of the two Women dipping for Water is the | present dress of the Country.' This drawing has not been identified. Wilson himself was among the first of British landscape painters to appreciate the unique character of the scenery around Tivoli. The same memorandum describes the scene in detail: 'The Ruins of Maecenas's Villa at Tivoli on the Bank of the River Anio which runs into the Tibur 20 mies distant from Rome. The building to the right of it among the Cypress Trees is a Convent of Jesuits. The Temple beneath that was built in honour of the god Tusis. The Spring which issues out of the Rock on the Left is the Fons Blandae of Horace whose villa stood between the trees on the left fronting Maecenas's.'
19/05/2021