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The Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli
Tate, London 2014
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli
c.1765 (undated)
Oil on canvas
36.1 x 25.4 cm
14 1/4 x 10 in.
N00303
P137
The scene features one of the vast arcaded galleries of what was thought at the time to be the ruined Villa of Maecenas. To the right a monk directs a well-dressed lady carrying papers towards a small archway. On the left a river winds its way behind a poplar or cypress tree. The shadows fall sharply from the upper left.
SA 1764 (135 or 136 - a version); BI 1841 (100 - lent Vernon); London, International Exhibition 1862 (61); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (108); London 1993 (77)
Robert Vernon, probably bt in 1835, certainly by 1841; presented to the National Gallery 1847; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1955
Unsigned; no inscription
Fine linen canvas with regular weave. Thickish, even ground covering entire surface. The left hand figure is unconvincing. There is possibly some overpainting of the poplar tree to the left and the stone column at the left is hard to read.
[1] White chalk: 303 [Tate Gallery catalogue number]
[2] Black ink on crossbar: 303 R. Wilson 'Hadrian's Villa'
The villa was believed to have been the residence of Maecenas, ambassador of the Emperor Augustus and most renowned of all Roman patrons of the arts. He was also seen as the personification of decadent luxury. The ruins of his villa, therefore, embodied both a high point of classical civilisation and the cause of its collapse. An underlying theme is sic transit gloria mundi - the destruction of past glories through time and neglect. The subject thus held a moral lesson for the viewer.
D130 Wilson, The Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli, The British Museum
E43 M.A. Rooker after Wilson, Twelve Etchings of Views in Italy - Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven
E43A M.A. Rooker after Wilson, Villa of Mæcenas at Tivoli, The British Museum
E43B M.A. Rooker after Wilson, Villa of Mæcenas at Tivoli, The British Museum
E43C M.A. Rooker after Wilson, Villa of Mæcenas at Tivoli, Royal Academy of Arts, London
E43D M.A. Rooker after Wilson,Villa of Mæcenas at Tivoli, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
E43E M.A. Rooker after Wilson, Villa of Mæcenas at Tivoli, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
E88 Thomas Abiel Prior after Wilson, Ruins in Italy, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
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Pendant P138 Hadrian's Villa, Tate, London
The composition is apparently based on D130, a drawing made by Wilson in Italy, which, however, lacks the landscape to the left, the broken Antique column and statue, and the prominent figures at the right. The unpretentious composition is explicable on account of the small size. An underlying theme is sic transit gloria mundi - the destruction of past glories through time and neglect. The subject thus held a moral lesson for the viewer. As noted by Solkin, the inherent sentiment may be compared with the conservative views of Oliver Goldsmith in his poemThe Traveller (1764):
'As in those domes, where Caesars once sway,
Defac'd by time, and tottering in decay,
Amidst the ruin, heedless of the dead,
The shelter-seeking peasant builds his shed,
And, wond'ring man could want the larger pile,
Exults, and owns his cottage with a smile'.
(O. Goldsmith, Poems, Belfast, 1775, p.21)
The subject evidently proved a 'good breeder' as numerous versions were made
303
Hastings 1825, p.19; Davies 1946, p. 176, cat. 303 - Part of 'Maecenas' Villa' at Tivoli; WGC, pp. 200, 205, pl. 87a; Solkin 1982, pp. 218-19; Hamlyn 1993, p.66; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 256 (cat. 70 but not exhibited)
Dimensions framed: 49.5 x 39.5 cm. Simple weave linen with pale grey oil ground. Relined. Surface cleaned and varnished 1887; flaking paint secured 1930; restored 1978; surface cleaned 1993. According to Kate Lowry: under UV there are some old retouches to damage at the top of the ruin. The figures and foreground column are not very convincing.