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Lake Avernus - I (Lake Avernus with Figures in the Foreground and the Temple of Apollo beyond)
Photograph Courtesy of Sotheby's
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Lake Avernus - I (Lake Avernus with Figures in the Foreground and the Temple of Apollo beyond)
Oil on canvas
40 x 52 cm
15 3/4 x 20 1/2 in.
Private Collection
A view across the lake towards a large ruined building with hills and mountains beyond. In the foreground, on the left, stand some trees. In the centre, there are three figures, two men, one seated on a log and one woman, or perhaps a monk, gesticulating. To the right are an open ancient sarcophagus, woodland and a hill topped by ancient buildings. Behind the group of figures a man bends down to his boat on the lake and further out another boat is is visible.
Sotheby's, 26 March 2004 (59)
Inscribed lower centre on the rock: R.W.
Lake Avernus lies on the Tyrrhenian coast of Italy, about a mile from Cumae, filling the crater of an extinct volcano. Mephitic vapours rise from its waters, precluding life on its banks, because of which it was believed to be the entrance to the Underworld by the Ancients. Thus in Virgil's Aeneid, Aeneas sacrifices to the gods in the shadow of the forest surrounding Lake Avernus and then follows the Cumaean Sibyl into her cave and down in to the Underworld. However, the exact location is not certain but has been identified as including the 'Temple of Apollo' and the scene is based on views in the Phlegraean Fields, rearranged with Wilsonian licence. The elements are Lake Avernus, Lake Lucrino (middle distance), the Bay of Baia (distance). The mountain is Monte Gauro.
E16 James Roberts after Wilson, A View in Italy, The British Museum
E16A James Roberts after Wilson, Lake Avernus (A View in Italy), National Museum Wales, Cardiff
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It is notable that by the mid-1760s Wilson's style had evolved into a sophisticated tension between the ideal and the naturalistic. Thus ancient tombstones lean wearily against their supports, signifying the dialectic between idealised classicism and a decline of past glories.