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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)
c. 1764
Oil on canvas
[15 3/4 x 20 1/2 in.]
Private Collection
P122F
A group of three figures converse in the foreground near ancient tombstones before Lake Avernus. Beyond are the ruins of the Temple of Apollo.
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 Delphic sibyl into her cave and down in to the Underworld.
E16 Roberts after Wilson, A View in Italy, The British Museum
E16A 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.