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Landscape with Temple of Clitumnus near Spoleto
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Ascribed to Wilson
Landscape with Temple of Clitumnus near Spoleto
c.1755 (undated)
Oil on canvas
50.8 x 74.9 cm
20 x 29 1/2in.
Wilson is said to have described a version of this view as 'the scenery taken from the long famed [Temple of] Clitumnus, near the once mystic temple of Juno which I have herein restored from its state in ruins, as seen near the source gently cascading into the streamlet, from whence flows that classic river. The period of time described produces the effects of those lights, &c. which succeeds the dawn of day, interspersed with the vapours and subdued tints that accompany the morning atmosphere.' (Christie's sale catalogue, 28 June 1814 (82))
Bought 1875
An alleged signature was not apparent
The setting is a temple supposedly once the sanctuary of the god Clitumnus, near Spoleto in Umbria, which was converted into a Christian church in the 4th century A.D. It stands beside the source of a spring from which rises the river also known as Clitumnus.
E8 Giuseppe Vasi after Wilson, Veduta del Tempio, e Fiume del Clitunno nello Stato presente, The British Museum
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[1] J.M.W. Turner, Wilson Sketchbook, 1796-97, p. pp. 78-79, Tate, London
The classical associations of the site made the temple a popular destination for Grand Tourists, and Wilson must have visited there on his journey from Venice to Rome with William Lock of Norbury and Thomas Jenkins in late 1751. No outdoor drawings of the site by Wilson survive but an etching by Giuseppe Vasi (E8) reproducing a finished drawing by him, was published in Rome in 1753 and must represent his earliest known treatment of the subject.
The museum collections online information records that the painting was bought for £12 in 1875 as a work by Richard Wilson's pupil, William Marlow. At that time it was called simply 'Landscape'. Some time in the late 19th century a professor of orthodontics at Rome University identified it as being a view of the Temple of Clitumnus, near Spoleto. In 1894 it was cleaned and a supposed monogram of Richard Wilson discovered lower left; 'RW' with the 'R' reversed. Soon after this it was displayed in the museum as 'Masterpiece of the Week'. However from the 1940s doubts formed as to the authenticity of the painting, and these remain.
WGC, p. 197, pl. 75b (version 4)
The site was later celebrated by Byron in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812), canto iv, stanzas lxvi-lxviii.
Kate Lowry has noted: Oil on coarse plain weave canvas. Glue relined. Original turnover survives along top edge and is unprimed. Pale grey ground was applied after stretching up of canvas. Stretcher size: 510 x 748 mm with painted canvas slightly smaller in height. Paint quite thickly applied in highlights and figures, and otherwise smooth and opaque. Bright blue sky with flat cloud shape similar in style to P57 Rome: St Peter's and the Vatican from the Janiculum. Unconvincing 'swiss-roll' style fallen columns in foreground. Lack of articulation in mid and foreground. Foliage of centre trees is very tight and fussy for Wilson, although painted over a reserve in the sky, but without any of the reserve left exposed. Not signed or dated.