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Cicero, Atticus and Quintus at his Villa at Arpinum
Photograph Courtesy of Sotheby's
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Cicero, Atticus and Quintus at his Villa at Arpinum
c. 1771 (undated)
Oil on canvas
59.5 x 77 cm
23 1/2 x 30 1/4 in.
Private Collection, London
P162B
The Roman orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) is shown conversing with his friend Quintus and his brother Atticus at Arpinum. As described in his De Legibus (Concerning thye Laws), a treatise on natural justice and the nature of the law, Cicero and his friends stand in a grove near an old oak tree, which Atticus recognises from a poem by Cicero. The discussion turns to a secluded island in the distance, where the villa of Cicero's birth is visible, and where he goes for 'undisturbed meditation, or uninterrupted reading or writing'. This conversation takes place on an island in the middle of the River Fibrenus on Cicero's native estate. The friends remark on how the serenity of the landscape inspires them with wisdom and creativity. From the dominion of nature, Cicero extrapolates his ideals for social order in Rome, while it is only through his inspired poetry and philosophies that Atticus perceives the perfection of nature itself. In the foreground two rivers conjoin and flow off left - one flowing from right to the left and the other, streaming from the left, meeting it at the rocks in the centre.
RA 1770 (201 -a version); RA Old Masters 1906 (6); Whitechapel 1906 (98 - lent W.G. Rawlinson)
Wynne Ellis sale, Christie's 6 May 1876 (131, Cicero at his Villa at Tusculum), bt Lee; W.G. Rawlinson; Christie's London, 26 March 1976 (68); Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 6 July 1983 (270); Private Collection, London
Unsigned; no inscription
Some of the trees at the upper right are reserved out in Wilson's typical fashion. The horizon is drawn down onto the mountains in a pronounced way. The trees on the brown central hillside are treated impressionistically.
[1] Left central horixontal bar of stretchjer, ytellow chalk: 398945/1 15 [encircled]
[1] Verso upper horizontal stretcher bar, in centre, old typed label on brown paper: Cicero and his two friends, Atticus and Quintus at his Villa at Arpinium / Vide Cic de Leg Lib 2, p. 74. / Exhibited at the Royal Academy, No. 201, 1770. Engraved by William Woollett
The Volscian hill town of Arpinum lies in the province of Frosinone, 70 miles south-east of Rome. Founded by the 7th century BC., it was captured by the Romans in 305 BC. Marcus Tullius Cicero was born on 3 January 106 BC at the family home just outside Arpinum. Cicero's family belonged to the local nobility and had connections with leading political figures in Rome. His provincial origin would define and haunt Cicero's life and career and differentiate him from, for example, his life-long friend and confidant, Titus Pomponius Atticus, who was a Roman born and bred. This is clear from the dialogue, De Legibus, which he composed in the late 50s and which contains the following exchange:
Cicero: Now, when it is possible for me to get away for more days, especially at this time of year, I make for the beauty and the healthy climate of this place, though it is seldom possible. But there is in fact another reason that gives me pleasure, which does not apply to you, Titus.
Atticus: And what is that?
Cicero: This is, to tell the truth, my own and my brother's real fatherland. Here are the most ancient roots from which we are descended; here are our family shrines, here our family, here the many traces of our ancestors.
(Cicero, De Legibus, 2.3-5)
D178 Arpinum, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
D371 Study for 'Cicero and his Friends', Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1855.145)
E45 William Woollett after Wilson, Cicero at his Villa, The British Museum and other impressions
See 'Links' tab
[1] Claude Lorrain St George and the Dragon, 1643, Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut
[2] John Robert Cozens, Cicero's Villa, watercolour, 1779, Private Collection, England
Although the general location of Cicero's villa at Arpino, southeast of Rome (one of at least nine properties he owned) was widely known in the 18th century, Wilson's landscape is remarkably unspecific and as suggested by David Solkin (1978), was quite possibly based on his familiar Welsh scenery. However, the building itself bears some resemblance to one at another site associated with Cicero - the Villa Rufinella (now the Grand Hotel Villa Tuscolana) at Frascati, near the site of the ancient Tusculum. Timothy Wilcox has plausibly argued that during his years in Italy Wilson saw the Villa Rufinella, which was being rebuilt for the Jesuits by the architect Luigi Vanvitelli from 1740. There is indeed a similarity in the nine bay façade, though the chronology of its remodelling and thus the layout that Wilson might have known, is unclear. Also, the Villa Rufinella stands on a north-facing slope, rather than in a valley, as is the case with the villa in this painting and at Arpinum.

As noted by Constable (p. 94) the design is similar to that of P166 View near ynnstay, Yale Center for British Art, with much the same arrangement of light and shade and similar treatment of the trees and of the distance.
WGC, p. 169 under pl. 27b (probable recorded versions 3 & 4 combined)
Wilson exhibited a painting of this subject at the Royal Academy in 1770 (210). An engraving by William Woollett was published in 1778, which was dedicated to Sir John Smith.
Highly varnished, much of it crinkly. Relined, in a modern gilded frame.
26/08/2016