Two Lions' Heads

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Two Lions' Heads
Two Lions' Heads
Two Lions' Heads
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
title=Credit line
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Two Lions' Heads
c.1752-53 (undated)
Black chalk heightened with white on blue-grey paper
Metric: 263 x 178 mm
Imperial: 10 3/8 x 7 in.
Accession Number
Wilson Online Reference
London 1949 (112); Tercentenary 2014 (8)
Sir Bruce Ingram; P.& D. Colnaghi & Co., London; purchased by the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, 1963
Unsigned; no inscription
Collectors' marks
[1] Verso, red stamp, lower right corner: AC within a rectangle, A. Chariatte (Lugt Suppl. 88a)
[2] Verso, lower left corner of fragment of former secondary support: 'I' in octagonal frame over A, Sir Bruce Ingram (Lugt Suppl. 1504a)
Verso inscriptions
[1] Lower centre, pencil: A356
[2] Lower centre, pencil: 115
Mount inscriptions
[1] Inscribed verso of old mount: artist, title and the letters 'F.W.M.' and 'R.C.5'
Almost certainly studies from one of the Medici Lions, two sculptures which were at the Villa Medici, Rome from about 1600 to 1787. They were commissioned by Ferdinando I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, to adorn the villa's garden staircase, the Loggia dei Leoni. One originated from a 2nd century BC marble relief which was reworked by Giovanni di Scherano Fancelli in 1598 and it is this that Wilson recorded. The second, also in marble, was executed as a pendant to the ancient sculpture, probably between 1594 and 1598, by Flaminio Vacca. The lions were later moved to Florence and since 1789, have flanked the steps to the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria. They were replaced by copies at the Villa Medici when Napoleon relocated the French Academy in Rome to the villa in 1803.

An alternative model for Wilson's drawings was proposed by Ford as the Piraeus Lion, displayed since 1687 outside the Arsenale in Venice as a symbol of the city's patron saint, Saint Mark. Seized from the Piraeus, harbour of ancient Athens, by Francesco Morosini, the Venetian naval commander, during a war against the Ottoman Empire, the white marble statue was an object of admiration since it stood, and stands, about 3 metres high and was defaced in the second half of the 11th century by Scandinavians, who carved two lengthy runic inscriptions on its shoulder and flanks.
Critical commentary
If the drawing were of the Piraeus Lion and done on the spot, it would demonstrate that Wilson had already adopted, in Venice where he was staying from 1750 to 1751, what was to become his favourite drawing technique of black chalk on grey paper, heightened with white. However, no other Venetian drawings using this technique are known and Robin Simon convincingly argues that Wilson is more likely to have made the drawing in Rome from the Medici Lions, after he had come into contact with artists at the Académie de France. That likelihood is strengthened by the forms of the heads themselves, notably the prominent ears, which support the Roman source. Simon also remarks that D53/35 Studies and Designs done in Rome in the Year 1752, p. 35 Niobe recording the sculpture of Niobe and her children in the Villa Medici garden, Rome, is executed on white paper in his earlier manner, so that the present drawing is likely to be later in date.
Ford 1951, pp. 54-55, pl. 21; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 211
Good condition with some slight conserved foxing overall. Small repaired tear, upper right corner.