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Diana and Callisto
Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Diana and Callisto
c. 1755 (undated)
Oil on canvas
103 x 139 cm
40 5/8 x 54 3/4 in.
Wilson has restored the ruined Roman Temple of Diana, just below the town of Nemi itself, to its original shape. It is shown halfway up the opposite shore to the west, with the largely medieval town above and Monte Calvarone beyond. In the foreground, Diana with her hounds points accusingly at Callisto, who is accompanied by two other nymphs.
There are birds silhouetted against the water.
Possibly London, SA 1761 (137) with 'its companion'; Society of British Artists (Suffolk Street) 1832 (34), lent by Lord Northwick; London 1925 (24); Manchester 1925 (55); Brussels 1929 (196); London, RA 1980 Lord Leverhulme (80)
John Rushout, 2nd Lord Northwick (1769-1859), Thirlestaine House, Cheltenham; sold Phillips at Thirlestaine House, Cheltenham 26 July 1859 (1195 - Lake of Nemi, Speculum Dianae, 'the famous picture'); bt J. Daubeney, Alstone Lodge; W. Daubeney, sold Christie's 27 June 1881 (91), as Lake Nemi; James Orrock and Sir J.D. Linton sale, Christie's 25-27 April 1895 (322); bt James Orrock, sold Christie's 4 June 1904 (147); bt Smith; bt Lord Lever, November 1904
Signed on the stone below the rock lower right: RW [R reversed]
Callisto was a nymph seduced by Jupiter when disguised as Diana. The scene comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses lines 401-530 and especially 441-465, where the virgin huntress has just discovered her handmaiden's pregnancy and is banishing her. Callisto's child will be the forefather of the Arcadian people. Since ancient times Lake Nemi had been associated with the cult of the goddess. Virgil and other classical writers had described the smooth, rounded lake as the Speculum Dianae or Mirror of Diana and as such, it was frequently mentioned in 18th century guide-books. The famous sanctuary of the goddess, the Grove of Diana, was on the northern shore of the lake, beneath the little town of Nemi (in Latin, Nemus Aricinum). These classical connotations of the lake are here strengthened by the introduction of Diana herself, chastising the errant nymph. Familiar to those with a classical education (as were most of Wilson's clients) by association with the goddess Diana, the landscape was one of the most celebrated beauty spots in central Italy, known as Speculum Dianae (Diana's Mirror).
D314 Monte Cavo in the Alban Hills, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
E13 Wood after Wilson, The Lake of Nemi or Speculum Dianæ, The British Museum
E82 Marvy after Wilson, Lake Nemi or Speculum Dianæ, The British Museum
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Pendant: P63A Classical Landscape with Diana and Actaeon, Collection of the Bermuda National Gallery and the Government of Bermuda
Gaspard Dughet Ideal Landscape, Glasgow City Art Gallery and Museum
The site had associations with Gaspard Dughet and the calm lucidity and order of the design consciously recall French classical landscapes of the 17th century by Dughet and Claude Lorrain. The handling is entirely characteristic of Wilson's work of the late 1750s.
Inventory number: WHL.641. Formerly H.35; Catalogue Number: Tatlock p. 68
Anonymous, Catalogue of Lord Northwick's Picture Galleries, 1858 (700); R. R. Tatlock, R. Fry, R. L. Hobson, P. Macquoid & C.R. Grundy, A Record of the Collections in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Cheshire formed by the First Viscount Leverhulme, vol. I, 1928, p. 68, no. 641; Byron Webber, James Orrock, I, facing p. 134, repr.; The Connoisseur, XC, July 1932, p. 31, repr.; WGC, p. 164, under pls 23a & b, and 24a; Solkin 1981; J. Cornforth: 'Stourhead', Country Life, 8 September 1994; A. Kidson, Earlier British Paintings in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, National Museums & Galleries, Merseyside, 1999, pp. 176-178
Lake Nemi, a volcanic lake in the Alban Hills about 15 miles south east of Rome.
This is the largest recorded version of the only known Wilson composition which depicts mythological figures within a specific topographical setting. It is likely to have been executed during his stay in Rome between 1752-57, though WGC dates it c.1765. At least by 1832 it was paired with an identically-sized version of Diana and Actaeon, a subject which Wilson had first painted in Rome c. 1754.
Relined. Pale pink brown ground or underpaint visible beneath distant landscape and around foliage of trees to right. The tree is reserved out top left, as is the tree on the right. There are yellow dots on the undersides of the leaves and on rushes in the foreground. In the lower left, a lot of brown is showing through. The ground is a pinky brown.