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The Grotto of Posillipo
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The Grotto of Posillipo
c.1753-54 (undated)
Black and white chalk and stump on blue grey paper, laid down on card
288 x 425 mm
11 3/16 x 16 5/8 in.
PD.1-1954
D321
Birmingham 1948-49 (91); London 1949 (90); Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge 1976 The Fairhaven Fund: The first Quarter Century (103); Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and six Australian venues 1982-83, Town, Country, Shore and Sea: British Drawings and Watercolours from Anthony Van Dyck to Paul Nash (6)
Commissioned about 1753 in Rome by William, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth; by descent until sold Christie's, 29 January 1954 (25), bt Fitzwilliam Museum from the Fairhaven Fund
Unsigned; see 'Mount Inscriptions'
[1] 25
[1] Inscribed in a later hand in pencil: Grotto of Posilipo [sic]
[2] Inscribed in ink, lower right corner: B
Also known as Grotta di Pozzuoli or Crypta Neapolitana, the grotto is an ancient Roman tunnel 700 metres long, which passes beneath the hill of Posillipo and connects Naples with the Phlegraean Fields, before reaching the ancient town of Pozzuoli, further west along the coast. Narrow yet lofty, the tunnel was a marvel of ancient engineering. The tomb of the poet Virgil was to be found there, creating a site that no cultivated visitor could miss. The grotto was depicted by numerous artists both before and after Wilson, including Gaspar Vanvitelli, John 'Warwick' Smith, Thomas Jones, Francis Towne, Hubert Robert and Claude-Louis Chatelet.
[1] Francis Towne (1739-1816): The Grotto of Posillipo, Naples, watercolour, 1781, The British Museum (Nn,3.12)
One of a major series of drawings commissioned by William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth (1731-1801), of which 25 are known to survive. The Dartmouth set is the most important group of the artist's finished compositions on paper. Originally numbering 68, the drawings were highly prized by the earl and much admired by connoisseurs of the day including William Lock of Norbury, and the artists John Hoppner and Joseph Farington. Hoppner said of them, 'they were such as the Greeks would have made & put all others at a distance' and Farington was almost certainly referring to them when he characterised Wilson's drawings as having 'all the qualities of his pictures except the colour.' Almost all drawings from the set are distinguished by a white mount with lilac wash border, on which the artist attached a small white label, bearing the title of the work - though that is not the case here.
14444
Farington Diary, vol. 7, p. 2775 (1 June 1806); Farington Biographical Note p. 12; Ford 1948, pp. 341 & 345, B; Clark & Bowron 1985, p. 267 under cat. 195
All the Dartmouth drawings have numbers in graphite on the back, ranging (with gaps) from 23 to 61, thus supporting the total of 68 given by Farington.
Dimensions including mount: 351 x 425 mm (13 13/16 x 16 3/4 in.). The mounting was done some time ago and the primary support has been cut down and pasted onto a secondary support of thicker, cream paper. A rectangular border has then been created from four strips of very similar (perhaps even the same) grey/blue paper to the primary support which have been stuck onto the secondary support. (Information kindly supplied by Henrietta Ward and Richard Farleigh).
21/11/2016