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Studies and Designs done in Rome in the Year 1752, p. 35 Niobe
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Studies and Designs done in Rome in the Year 1752, p. 35 Niobe
Black chalk on white paper
188 x 130 mm (volume: 203 x 143 mm)
8 x 5 5/8 in.
Page 35 from a sketchbook of 78 leaves containing Studies and Designs done in Rome in the Year 1752. The figure of Niobe is taken from the famous Antique sculptural group originally in the Villa Medici, Rome but from the 1770s in the Uffizi, Florence. It shows Niobe trying to protect the last of her seven daughters from the arrows of Apollo and Diana. The figures appear in a similar pose in P90 The Destruction of the Children of Niobe, Yale Center for British Art, which Wilson exhibited in 1760. A few years before his journey to Italy the Revd Joseph Spence discussed the marble group at length and illustrated the central figures in his book, Polymetis (London, 1747, pp. 96-100 and 111). In Wilson's first version of the subject P90A, Private Collection at Ashridge, painted in Rome perhaps as early as 1754, the group was composed differently. As noted by Robin Simon, Wilson's associates in Rome, J.J. Winckelmann and Johannes Wiedewelt, made a particular study of the Niobe group, together with the other sculptures in the Villa Medici, in 1756-58.
London, Cardiff and New Haven 1982-83 (21); Tercentenary 2014 (16)
Bt about 1922 from Miss Alice J. Bowles
P90 The Destruction of the Children of Niobe, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven
P90D Studio of Wilson, Apollo destroying the Children of Niobe, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Wilson's commitment to landscape made soon after his arrival in Rome in late 1751 initiated a sustained burst of activity as a draughtsman which was to gain momentum over the next few years. One major piece of evidence for the seriousness with which he took his new career is provided by the pages of this surviving sketchbook from 1752. Although it contains a number of rapid sketches from nature and the antique, most of its leaves are filled with imaginary essays in landscape design, usually incorporating classical themes such as antique ruins but presented in a rococo manner, and, as noted by Solkin, 'using lazy curving forms and often capricious combinations of architectural motifs in a way that still recalls the works of Zuccarelli.' Increasingly, however, Wilson came to adopt a more naturalistic style.
WGC, pp. 160-63, pl. 20a; Solkin 1982, pp. 152, 157; Wilson and Europe 2014, pp. 216-17; F. Nicolai, 'The 1584 Purchase Contract for the Medici Group of Niobe Sculptures', Burlington Magazine, vol. 162, no. 1402, January 2020, pp. 26-31
Only two sketchbooks by Wilson have survived - the present one (D53-D53/81) and D280-D280/33 Italian Sketchbook - Drawings, 1754, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection