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The Temple of the Sibyl and the Campagna
Photograph courtesy of the National Gallery of Ireland
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The Temple of the Sibyl and the Campagna
Oil on canvas
49.5 x 64.5 cm
19 1/2 x 25 3/8 in
The view is towards the north east of Tivoli and includes the town's most famous ruins, the round Temple of Vesta and the Temple of the Tiburtine Sibyl, situated just to the right of the Grand Cascade. At the extreme right is the summer residence of the princely Roman Massimo family, today the Hotel Torre San Angelo, which enjoys unrivalled views of the temples. Beyond the promontory lies a stretch of the Roman Campagna. A peasant, woman and child on the knoll in the centre ground enhance the sense of sunlit idyll, while to the left two men carry away an easel and large canvas at the end of the day's work. This coincides with the time of day which, given the orientation towards the north east, must be evening, with light coming from the west at the left.
London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (66); London 1996-97 (97); Tercentenary 2014 (58)
Painted in Rome for Joseph Henry of Straffan, Co. Kildare, Ireland, thence by descent; sold by the Trustees of a Charitable Foundation, Fosters, 25 May 1870 (113a); bt by Barbara, Countess of Milltown, widow of the 6th Earl of Milltown; given by her to the National Gallery of Ireland, 1902
Signed on parapet lower left: RW
Inscribed verso (see Verso Inscriptions)
Wilson's handling of the distance is a unique example of his use of a background quickly scratched in while still wet with the wrong end of the brush so as to reveal the darker ground beneath the upper layers of pigment. While the freedom of painting in certain areas implies that he was working partly out of doors, the balanced composition is typical of 18th century studio practice. The background, figures and foreground tree are all stylistically untypical of Wilson. There is a possible pentiment in the left profile of the foreground rock in the centre and the stonework of the parapet at the left is unsmoothly finished.
In an unknown hand in ink:
[1] Upper right: Joseph Henry | Tivoli 2 | R: Wilson Pinxt: | 1752
[2] Lower right: No. 2
The ruined temple, believed to be that of the Sibyl, was one of the most popular sites with artists at Tivoli. It was built in the 1st century BC. Eighteen Corinthian columns round a circular cella survive and a church was added in the Middle Ages.
D217 Tivoli with the Temples of Vesta and the Sibyl and the Grand Cascade, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
D280/10 Italian Sketchbook - Drawings pp. 10(v) and 11(r): The Temples of Vesta and the Sibyl at Tivoli, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven
See 'Links' tab
Pendant: P44 Tivoli, the Cascatelle Grande and the Villa of Maecenas , National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
Jan Frans van Bloemen, View of Tivoli with the Temple of the Sibyl , Private Collection
One of two Tivoli scenes (see also P44 National Gallery of Ireland NGI.746) painted for Joseph Henry. They are Wilson's earliest known paintings of actual Italian scenery. The composition proved a 'good breeder' for Wilson and exists in several versions. The direct application of paint in the distance, freedom of technique in some areas and possible pentiment on the foreground rock, coupled with the inscription on the reverse, combine to resolve Constable's doubts as to the authenticity of the painting. Solkin noted that a likely inspiration for Wilson's design was View of Tivoli with the Temple of the Sibyl (private collection) datable c.1710-20 by the Flemish follower of Gaspard Dughet, Jan Frans van Bloemen, known as 'l'Orizzonte', who died in Rome in 1749.
The Connoisseur, August 1952; WGC, p.224, pl.116b (version 3); M. Wynne, 'The Milltowns as Patrons', Apollo, vol. 99, Feb. 1974, pp. 110-11, fig. 20; Potterton 1981, p. 180; Solkin 1982, p. 183; Clark & Bowron 1985, p. 250, cat.147; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 247; A. Callen, The Work of Art, London 2015, pp. 64 & 280, n. 44
Cleaned in 1996 for the Grand Tour exhibition, Tate Britain. Kate Lowry has noted:
The original canvas was fine weave linen (as is was for its pendant National Gallery of Ireland NGI.746). Now glue-relined and stretched onto a seven member pine stretcher with square mortice joints and provision for keying out. The lining was carried out sometime before the painting entered the gallery in 1902. Original ground is a dark red/brown colour (as it is for its pendant National Gallery of Ireland NGI.746). It is completely covered by the pale blue of the sky but left exposed to form part of the landscape in the middle and foreground. Particularly striking is the artist's use of the brush handle to model the lines of the distant landscape at the right, cutting through the pale tone of the wet paint to reveal the dark ground beneath. The foreground with figures carrying an easel and as yet unpainted primed canvas suggests a morning rather than an evening scene, whilst its pendant with the artist at work and a rosy sky looking west to Rome, suggests an evening scene. The figure carrying the easel is quite brushily painted for Wilson, but the shepherd boy and seated girl, centre right on the rock in the foreground, are typically impastoed. The foliage of the tree against the sky upper right is less defined than in Wilson's mature work, however the sky has been painted down to the horizon and around the silhouetted buildings in a manner typical of Wilson.
Treatment carried out in 1996 as follows: Varnish removed and work revarnished and retouched. Under UV light only minor scattered retouches visible. No major damages.