Distant View of Maecenas' Villa, Tivoli (Tivoli: Villa of Maecenas)

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Distant View of Maecenas' Villa, Tivoli (Tivoli: Villa of Maecenas)
Distant View of Maecenas' Villa, Tivoli (Tivoli: Villa of Maecenas)
Distant View of Maecenas' Villa, Tivoli (Tivoli: Villa of Maecenas)
Birmingham Museums Trust
title=Credit line
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Distant View of Maecenas' Villa, Tivoli (Tivoli: Villa of Maecenas)
Dated lower left 1761 (or 7)
Oil on canvas
Metric: 123.4 x172.7 cm
Imperial: 48 9/16 x 68 in.
Accession Number
Wilson Online Reference
The view is up the gorge of the River Aniene, showing the lower cascades in the middle distance and above them, the ruins of the so-called Villa of Maecenas or Temple of Hercules Victor. In the foreground a standing and kneeling woman are filling water jugs next to a large fragment of classical sculpture leaning against a Corinthian capital, and a severed stone head. The small building on the hillside is the Tempio della Tosse (Temple of Coughing), perhaps a tomb. As noted by Solkin, however, the foreground and middleground seem to be entirely invented, while the villa itself and the temple are shown on a much lower slope than they occupy in reality.
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts 1966, Peintures et Aquarelles anglaises 1700-1900 (134); British Council, Prague/Bratislava 1969, Two Centuries of English Painting (161); British Council, Vienna (61); Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, George Field and his Circle, 1989 (27) repr. col.; Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, Utsonomiya, Sun, Wind and Rain: The Awakening of British Landscape Painting, November 1992-10 January 1993; Shizuoka, Prefectural Museum of Art, 22 January-14 March 1993 (23)
According to W.G. Constable the early history is unknown; bt 1933 or 1934 by Captain Rodney Dyke in a London sale room; purchased from Rodney Dyke, 1949
Signed lower left: RW [monogram, R reversed]
Techniques and materials
There is a possibility of another painting underneath, which might explain the traction cracks
Verso inscriptions
[1] Two chalk marks read '14'
[2] Liner's stamp on stretcher X3: 'I.Peel'
The 'Villa of Maecenas' occupied a particularly lofty position in the esteem of British Grand Tourists since it brought to mind the most famous of all Roman cultural patrons. Maecenas had been one of the greatest Roman benefactors of the arts but was also perceived as the personification of decadent luxury. What were believed to be the ruins of his villa thus embodied both a high point of classical civilisation and the cause of its collapse. Hence this classical landscape held a moral lesson for the contemporary viewer.
Related Drawings
D164 Landscape with a large Temple, Victoria & Albert Museum, London
D260 Villa of Maecenas, Tate, London
Related Prints
E72/7 Thomas Hastings after Wilson, The Villa of Maecenas, The British Museum
E77 J. Le Keux after Wilson, Maecenas' Villa at Tivoli, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
E79/2 Robert Brandard after Wilson, Maecenas' Villa at Tivoli, The British Museum
See 'Links' tab
Related Works by Other Artists
[1] Claude-Joseph Vernet The Falls of Tivoli (1753, WGC pl. 151b)
[2] Francis Towne (1739-1816): The Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli from below the Falls, watercolour, 1781, The British Museum (Nn,3.8)
Critical commentary
The work appears to be a mature reworking of P71 (Tate), with subtle alterations of detail to give a more compact composition. However, the date is uncertain as the inscription can be read as either '1761' (more likely) or '1767'. The facture is considerably more sketchy than the Tate version P71. In 1799 the young John Constable painted a version of the composition lent to him by Joseph Farington.
Previous Cat/Ref Nos
Illustrations, 1952, repr. p. 49; WGC, pp. 73, 91, 225, repr. pl. 117b; Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Catalogue of Paintings, 1960; J. Hayes, The Masters, No. 57, Wilson, 1966, pp. 3, 6, 8, repr. pl. XI
Link to WG Constable Archive Record
More Information
Re 'Verso inscriptions' [2]: John Peel (c.1785-1858) is recorded as a well respected artist, framemaker, liner, restorer and dealer based at Golden Square, London from 1819 to 1858 (J. Simon ed., British Picture Restorers 1650-1950, National Portrait Gallery website - P)
There is a wrinkly area to the left of the villa. Traction cracks in the centre are quite severe. The water has an imprecise, approximate look. There is an old damage lower left. near the corner. The horizon is brought down to the landscape in a satisfactory way, especially top right. Cleaned by (1) Herbert Lank 14th July 1959; (2) Alex Cobbe 3 April 1974. He noted the canvas as simple weave, a liner's stamp x3 on the stretcher, a greyish ground, a spasmodic network of crackle and two large retouchings in the left and right lower foreground; (3) Moira Twist 21 July 1974. In a letter to Mary Woodall dated 17 September 1949, W.G. Constable stated that this version is better than the National Gallery's (P71).
Kate Lowry has noted: Glue relined and stretcher dates from relining. Liner has stamped stretcher 'I PEEL'. Since lining, it has been patched at lower right on reverse. An older damage pre-dating lining is visible in raking light at lower left. Simple weave canvas 9 x 9 threads per sq. cm. Pale pink ground is visible in the sky where it appears thin. Severe drying cracks in centre sky and foreground darks suggest something else underlying the composition. In 1974, Alex Cobbe noted extensive retouching in the sky and in both lower corners.