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Diana and Callisto
Private Collection / Photograph by Studio Edmark Photography
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Diana and Callisto
Undated
Oil on canvas
78.5 x 101.5 cm
30 7/8 x 39 1/2 in.
Private Collection
P127B
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.In this evening scene, parallel rays of sunlight descend from the upper left to the lower right.
Birmingham 1948 (62); London 1949 (61)
Believed to have been bought by James West P.R.S. (1704-72) but possibly acquired by his grandson; thence by descent
Signed lower right corner: RW [monogram, R reversed]
There has been some early adjustment of the drapery round Callisto's back and shoulders.
[1] [Birmingham 1948 &c]
Callisto was a nymph seduced by Jupiter when disguised as Diana. The scene comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses, book 2, 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. Her famous sanctuary, the Grove of Diana, was on the northern shore of the lake, beneath the little town of Nemi (in Latin, Nemus Aricinum). The classical connotations of the lake are here strengthened by the introduction of Diana herself, chastising the errant nymph.
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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Lake Nemi is accurately represented. To the left a pentiment of a tree-trunk runs up diagonally.
WGC, pp. 164-65, pl. 24a
The frame is early 19th century ornate. The picture is in very good condition with hardly any intervention.
Kate Lowry has noted:
Simple weave canvas, glue lined. Present stretcher has five members with square mortice joints and dates from the relining treatment. The vection crack which had formed along the inside edge of the original upper stretcher member indicates that the original stretcher had slightly narrower members. Pale warm grey ground visible in foreground and at upper left in tree foliage. Some drying cracks in areas of dark paint. Under UV light minor retouches are visible over the varnish in lower left foreground, left hand tree trunk and in centre sky, this later possibly associated with an old filled damage. Some reinforcing retouches also to the drapery of the two standing figures either side of seated nude, Callisto. No retouches to her figure or to the signature. Retouching of upper vection crack is discoloured. Pentiment of a bare tree trunk visible to the right of left hand trees, which appears in other earlier versions of this composition such as the one at Lady Lever Art Gallery, but has here been painted out by Wilson. Generally in excellent condition.