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Diana and Callisto
Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Diana and Callisto
c.1755 (undated)
Oil on canvas
103 x 139 cm
40 5/8 x 54 3/4 in.
LL3122
P127C
In the foreground, Diana points accusingly at Callisto, who is accompanied by two more nymphs, while others bathe in the lake below. The town of Nemi appears above the woods on the opposite shore, with Monte Calvarone beyond. There are birds silhouetted against the water.
Possibly London, SA 1761 (137) with 'its companion'; Society of British Artists (Suffolk Street) 1832 (34), lent by Lord Northwick; London 1925 (24); Manchester 1925 (55); Brussels 1929 (196); London, RA 1980 Lord Leverhulme (80)
John Rushout, 2nd Lord Northwick (1769-1859), Thirlestaine House, Cheltenham; sold Phillips at Thirlestaine House, Cheltenham 26 July 1859 (1195 - Lake of Nemi, Speculum Dianae, 'the famous picture'); bt J. Daubeney, Alstone Lodge; W. Daubeney, sold Christie's 27 June 1881 (91), as Lake Nemi; James Orrock and Sir J.D. Linton sale, Christie's 25-27 April 1895 (322); bt James Orrock, sold Christie's 4 June 1904 (147); bt Smith; bt Lord Lever, November 1904
Signed on the stone below the rock lower right: RW [R reversed]
Callisto was a nymph seduced by Jupiter when disguised as Diana. The scene comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses 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 eighteenth-century guide-books. The famous sanctuary of the goddess, the Grove of Diana, was on the northern shore of the lake, beneath the little town of Nemi (in Latin, Nemus Aricinum). These classical connotations of the lake are here strengthened by the introduction of Diana herself, chastising the errant nymph. Familiar to those with a classical education (as were most of Wilson's clients) by association with the goddess Diana, the landscape was one of the most celebrated beauty spots in central Italy.
E13 Joseph Wood after Wilson, The Lake of Nemi or Speculum Dianæ, The British Museum
E82 Louis Marvy after Wilson, Lake Nemi or Speculum Dianæ, The British Museum
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Pendant: P63A Classical Landscape with Diana and Actaeon, Collection of the Bermuda National Gallery and the Government of Bermuda
Gaspard Dughet Ideal Landscape, Glasgow City Art Gallery and Museum
The site had associations with Gaspard Dughet and the calm lucidity and order of the design consciously recall French classical landscapes of the 17th century by Dughet and Claude Lorrain. The handling is entirely characteristic of Wilson's work of the late 1750s.
Inventory number: WHL.641. Formerly H.35; Catalogue Number: Tatlock p. 68
Anonymous, Catalogue of Lord Northwick's Picture Galleries, 1858 (700); B. Webber, James Orrock, R.I., vol. 1, 1903, repr. opp. p. 134; R.R. Tatlock, R. Fry, R. L. Hobson, P. Macquoid & C.R. Grundy, A Record of the Collections in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Cheshire formed by the First Viscount Leverhulme, vol. I, 1928, p. 68, no.641; The Connoisseur, vol. 90, July 1932, p. 31, repr.; WGC, p. 164, under pls 23a & b, and 24a; Solkin 1981; J. Cornforth: 'Stourhead', Country Life, 8 September 1994; A. Kidson, Earlier British Paintings in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, National Museums & Galleries, Merseyside, 1999, pp. 176-78
Lake Nemi, a volcanic lake in the Alban Hills about 15 miles south east of Rome.
This is the largest recorded version of the only known Wilson composition which depicts mythological figures within a specific topographical setting. It is likely to have been executed during his stay in Rome between 1752-57, though W.G. Constable dates it c.1765. At least by 1832 it was paired with P63A, an identically-sized version of Diana and Actaeon, a subject which Wilson had first painted in Rome c.1753-54.
Kate Lowry has noted: Gilt compo frame, low-reflective glass. Viewed in the frame on display. Oil on canvas, relined. Pale pink brown ground or underpaint visible beneath distant landscape and around foliage of trees to right. Darker brown tone beneath trees at lower left. Flat white clouds in sky. Flecks of bright yellow on lower foliage, upper right and on grasses, lower left corner. Excellent quality Wilson. Figure group is reversed version of those that appear in P127.
26/05/2021