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Distant View of Maecenas' Villa, Tivoli
Tate, London 2014
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Distant View of Maecenas' Villa, Tivoli
c.1756-58 (undated)
Oil on canvas
120.7 x 169.2 cm
47 1/2 x 66 5/8 in.
N00108
P71
The view is up the gorge of the River Aniene, showing the lower cascades in the middle distance and above them, the ruins of the so-called Villa of Maecenas or Temple of Hercules. The small building on the hillside is the Tempio della Tosse (Temple of Coughing), perhaps a tomb. As noted by Solkin, however, the foreground and middleground seem to be entirely invented, while the villa itself and the temple are shown on a much lower slope than they occupy in reality.
BI 1814 (154/158 - Macaenas' Villa, at Tivoli, lent Beaumont); International Exh., South Kensington, 1862 (61- lent National Gallery); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (76); Tercentenary 2014 (69)
Probably commissioned by Sackville Tufton, 8th Earl of Thanet (1733-86); purchased 1794 from the 9th Earl through Joseph Farington and Vandergucht by Sir George Beaumont Bart for £100; presented 1823 to the National Gallery by Sir George Beaumont; transferred to the Tate Gallery, 1955
Inscribed on the rock to the left of the figures: RW [monogram, R reversed]
Italian canvas, red ground on coarse linen weave (the coarsest found of any examined at the Tate). With reference to Farington's statement about the gap in genesis, the sky was indeed painted in two distinct stages - repainted after Wilson's return to England with an additional white layer painted over the Prussian blue of the earlier sky. The foliage of the trees lies over the second sky; they were presumably painted in England, as also suggested by their handling.
[1] Bourlet label on stretcher: B14956
The 'Villa of Maecenas' occupied a particularly lofty position in the esteem of British Grand Tourists since it brought to mind the most famous of all Roman cultural patrons. Maecenas had been one of the greatest Roman benefactors of the arts but was also perceived as the personification of decadent luxury. What were believed to be the ruins of his villa thus embodied both a high point of classical civilisation and the cause of its collapse. Hence this classical landscape held a moral lesson for the contemporary viewer.
D164 Landscape with a large Temple, Victoria & Albert Museum, London
D260 Villa of Maecenas, Tate, London
E72/7 Hastings after Wilson, The Villa of Maecenas, The British Museum
E77 Le Keux after Wilson, Maecenas' Villa at Tivoli, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
E79/2 Brandard after Wilson, Maecenas' Villa at Tivoli, The British Museum
P71A Private Collection, England
P71B Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
P71C Private Collection, England
P71D Lady Lever Art Gallery, , National Museums Liverpool
[1] Claude-Joseph Vernet The Falls of Tivoli (1753, WGC p. 239, pl. 151b)
[2] Francis Towne (1739-1816): The Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli from below the Falls, watercolour, 1781, The British Museum (Nn,3.8)
According to Wilson's pupil, Joseph Farington this work was begun while Wilson was still in Italy but not brought to conclusion until his return to England. It is thus likely to be the first version of the subject. As David Solkin has noted, by comparison with Wilson's Italian views of a few years earlier, this is a more naturalistic treatment of landscape forms in which light prevails. At the same time, the particularities of the site have yielded to an all-embracing order, expressive of a generalised ideal underlying nature as a whole. The task of revealing this divinely-ordained ideal, of making order manifest amidst variety, remained Wilson's central concern as a Grand Style landscape artist throughout his career.
Hastings 1825, p.10; Davies 1946, pp. 174-5; WGC, p. 225, pl. 117b (version 1); Solkin 1982, pp.192-93; Farington Diary, vol. 1, p. 214, 15 July 1794; Clark & Bowron 1985, pp. 258-59, under cat. 177; F. Owen et al., Noble and Patriotic: The Beaumont Gift, 1828, exh. cat., National Gallery, London, 1988, pp. 60-61; Wilson and Europe 2014 p. 256
Tivoli near Rome, Italy
Simple weave linen canvas. Glue-lined before acquisition. Turnovers removed at time of lining. Cusping visible at all edges and vection cracks coincide with inner edges of stretcher, so margins have not been cut. Old tear in centre top sky visible in X-ray. Generally in good condition. Grey oil ground, single layer, probably commercially prepared. No impasto. Paint slightly flattened and cratered by heat and pressure has been applied in lining. The grey ground and choice of pigments are correct for Wilson's period. An X-ray image demonstrates the clear difference in density between sky and foreground areas, typical of Wilson's landscapes. Infra-Red reflectography shows some masts and rigging drawn in but subsequently painted out. No changes are visible by X-ray but there is the characteristic contrast between the sky and foreground areas found in many of Wilson's landscapes. Kate Lowry has noted: Painted on a simple weave canvas with red/brown priming.The fact that the sky was reworked by the artist after the first painting was completely dry tends to support Farington's assertion that the painting was begun in Italy and completed in England. This reworking has led to flaking between the paint layers in the sky. The trees were also painted at this later stage over the reworked sky and over some pre-existing drying cracks. The darks of the foreground are achieved with very thin glazes and scumbles allowing the dark tone of the ground to show through.