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Rome from the Villa Madama
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Rome from the Villa Madama
1753
Oil on canvas
95.4 x 132.7 cm
37 9/16 x 52 1/4 in.
B1977.14.82
P56
The city of Rome is seen looking towards the south east from the slopes of Monte Mario above the Tiber with the loggia of the Villa Madama at the right in the foreground and the Alban Hills in the distance. Immediately to the left of the villa can be seen the bulk of Castel San Angelo by the banks of the Tiber. To the right the setting sun gives a late afternoon light. A fragment of a marble statue and other classical remains in the forefront of the picture provide an antique context for the Renaissance villa, designed by Raphael for Pope Clement VII.
BI 1814 (173/177 View on the Tiber, near Rome); BI 1844 (141 or 147 Distant View of Rome); Manchester 1857 (Modern Masters, 29 Rome, with the Alban Hills); Royal Academy, Old Master Exhibition, 1879 (240 View of the Alban Hills and Tiber); Birmingham 1948-49 (17); London 1949 (16); Norwich 1958 (61); London Arts Council, The Age of Neo-Classicism, 1972 (279); New Haven, Selected Paintings, 1977; Munich 1979-80 (91); New Haven 1981 (53); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (67); Sydney 1998 (24); New Haven and London 2007-8 (19); Tercentenary 2014 (60)
Commissioned with P57 by William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, 1753; by descent to Lady Templemore; bt by Paul Mellon, through John Baskett, May 1974
Signed and dated on the large classical block, lower left centre: RW [monogram, R reversed] | 1753
Blue and sub-aqueous-looking with a very empty sky. Reserves have been left for trees but silhouettes are generally sharp. The aerial perspective of the mountains is effective. The figures, however, are secondary, and more or less blocked in. The foreground is blobby and sunken. Skeletal build-up of the trees is evident lower right. Note the two other figures below to the right. The city is carefully observed in detail, perhaps drawn on the spot.
This is among the most famous of all Roman prospects, pilgrims catching their first sight of the Eternal City from this point.
David Solkin has noted Wilson's general debt to Claude Lorrain especially to his painting Landscape with Mill (Doria-Pamphilj Gallery, Rome), in the silhouetting of the dark trees against the bright sky.
D225 The Villa Madama, Rome, with a Man seated in the Foreground, Private Collection, England
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Pendant: P57 Rome: St Peter's and the Vatican from the Janiculum, Tate, London
[1] Jan Frans van Bloemen, l'Orizzonte (1662-1749), View of Rome from Monte Mario, 1736, ex- Delegazione Montedison, Rome, Sotheby's Milan, 8 June 1994 (268)
[2] Jan Frans van Bloemen l'Orizzonte, A Panoramic View of Rome observed from Monte Mario, Sotheby's London, 8 Dec 2010 (37)
[3] Ford 1951, pl. 40 reproduces a comparable drawing rightly attributed to a pupil.
This painting is one of Wilson's earliest and finest Italian scenes. Solkin has pointed out that in this work, Wilson has abandoned the oily impastoes favoured by his predecessors for a much smoother and more subtle handling of glazes in a subdued range of colours. Wilson has combined antiquity, history and topography in this emblematic image with its prominent classical sculpture and compositional acknowledgments to his revered predecessors, Claude Lorrain and l'Orizzonte, drawing attention to the juxtaposition of modern Rome with its decaying classical past. As was often the case with such subjects, Wilson has set the scene in the melancholy fading light of late afternoon and sunset. The seated figure is drawing.
Object ID: 5012
Skelton 1758, p.35 (Letter to William Herring, 11 January 1758); Catalogue 1814, p. 21; Ford 1948, p. 342; Ford 1951, pp. 21, 33-34, 56-57, pl. 40; Ford 1952, pp. 311-12, fig. 2; Waterhouse 1953, p. 175; WGC, pp. 33, 71, 119, 160, 218-19, pl. 107a; Waterhouse 1953, p. 175; Constable 1954, p. 147; Sutton & Clements 1968, vol. 2, p. 9, fig. 10;Yale Center for British Art, Selected Paintings and Drawings, exh. cat., 1977, p. 22 repr.; Solkin 1982, pp. 14-15, 47, 138, n. 49, 184-85; Clark & Bowron 1985, p. 267 under cat. 195; Cormack 1985, pp. 252 & 253; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 249
One of the few pictures known to have been painted by Wilson in Rome and one of two views of Rome commissioned from Wilson by Lord Dartmouth. The pendant is P57 St Peter's and the Vatican seen from the Janiculum, Tate, London. The composition seems to have been much admired and Wilson later produced several replicas. It was possibly P56 to which Jonathan Skelton was referring when he moved into lodgings near Sta Trinita dei Monti in 1758: 'The Famous Villa Madama (where Mr. Wilson took his view of Rome from which I always thought his best Picture.' As noted in Solkin 2015, Wilson was the only British landscapist with direct experience of the fabled sites of Roman antiquity until the return of William Marlow from Europe in 1766.
Framed in a period rococo frame identicsl in deign to that of its pendant P57. Cleaned 1974 by Thomas Lindsay. Deemed structurally unstable by Dorothy Mahon October 1982. Lined. Foamboard backing. Kate Lowry has noted:
Canvas support is simple, fine weave linen canvas. c.15 threads per square cm. Most of the original turnovers have been removed but part of the left hand edge remains lined onto the face of the stretcher. The present lining is medium weight linen attached with glue-paste adhesive. Stretcher is made up of seven members and probably dates from the 1974 relining. The ground is pink in colour, not particularly thick and does not cover the canvas turnovers that remain, so might have been the artist's own preparation, although as the support is probably of Italian origin, colourmen there may have had different ways of preparing their canvases. It is comparable with the ground found on P64 Rome from the Ponte Molle, National Museum Wales, Cardiff. XRF suggests that it contains earth pigments, lead white and vermilion where ground is exposed on the right hand side of Castel Sant'Angelo. IR imaging does not show much in the way of underdrawing apart from perhaps in the branches of the trees framing the composition left and right. The sky paint is relatively thick and completely covers the pink ground. The thinner darker foreground tones of brown and green are painted over a grey underpaint so the pink tone of the ground has little influence except where paint is worn. XRF indicated the presence of earth colours and copper in the dark greens, Prussian blue in the river and ultramarine blue mixed with lead white in the sky. Drying wrinkle and impasto in the distant hills suggests Wilson painted their outline lower initially and then revised it upward. All of the distant city is very thinly and transparently painted over a grey underpaint. The foreground figures are painted with a little more impasto. Under UV light there is extensive retouching to old drying craquelure in lower left corner along with minor retouches along all edges and around figures lower left and building lower right. Two larger areas of retouching over varnish in sky above the central hills suggest possible earlier damage to canvas. Signature and date are not retouched. Painting was cleaned and probably lined by Thomas Lindsay in London before it was shipped to the USA. This is mentioned in a letter in the curatorial file on the painting. Residues of paper tape at some edges of the original canvas show that it very probably had been relined previous to this. Since then it has had minor treatment for cleavage.