The West Belvedere at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli (Hadrian's Villa)

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The West Belvedere at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli (Hadrian's Villa)
The West Belvedere at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli (Hadrian's Villa)
The West Belvedere at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli (Hadrian's Villa)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
title=Credit line
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
The West Belvedere at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli (Hadrian's Villa)
Between 1775 and 1782 (undated)
Oil on canvas
Metric: 43.8 x 33.7 cm
Imperial: 17 1/4 x 13 1/4 in.
Accession Number
Wilson Online Reference
New Haven 1981 (111)
Douglas William Freshfield, Wych Cross Place, Forest Row, Sussex; Christie's, 2 Nov 1934 (149), bt Barbizon House (£120.15.0); Barbizon House 1935 (8); Sir Gervase Beckett; Agnew & Sons, from whom purchased 1967 by Paul Mellon
Unsigned; no inscription
Techniques and materials
In view of its loose handling the present painting probably dates from very late in Wilson's career c.1775. Overall cool tonality with grey, thinly-painted clouds. The building is in thick impasto and the clothes and shadows are convincing in lovely impasto - the figure in front of the door is thickly impastoed. There is a grey, thin wash over the path in the foreground. The shadows of the poles are sensitive. The tress to the right are painted in the reserve of the underpainting. There are blobs of burnt sienna on the right of the arch support at the right and a goat is emerging from the archway. Thin sky overpaint of foliage at top of the cliff to the left.
The subject has sometimes been called View in Italy with a ruined arch, and 'Strada Nomentana, for which there seems to be no authority. An engraving by Rooker published in 1776 in Twelve original Views of Italy as In the Villa Adriana and numerous references by Farington seem to justify the present title, which has recently been confirmed as the West Belvedere at Hadrian's Villa. The painting exists in a number of versions, often together with a pendant showing Maecenas' Villa.
Related Drawings
D170 The West Belvedere at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea
D170A Hadrian's Villa, Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery
Related Prints
E42 Michael 'Angelo' Rooker after Wilson In the Villa Adriana Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven and other impressions
E80 Celia Lucy Brightwell after Wilson Hadrian's Villa, The British Museum and other impressions
E83 James Carter after Wilson, Hadrian's Villa The British Museum and other impressions
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Critical commentary
Duncan Bull has suggested that the subject of a classical ruin acting as the foundation for a peasant dwelling, set in the rich associational landscape near Tivoli, was a favourite way of indicating the decay of classical civilisation. He also pointed out that although the figures in the foreground are modern peasants, Wilson has generalised their forms and given them a vaguely classical cast to heighten the allusion to a classical theme. David Solkin went further, seeing the subject as a variation on one of Wilson's favourite themes, 'sic transit gloria mundi'. The collapse of the once mighty Roman Empire, through an overemphasis on commerce, is compared to the sentiments of Oliver Goldsmith's The Traveller (1764) and hence appears as a comment on contemporary England. Wilson, however, may not have known of Goldsmith's poem when he painted his first version of the scene. Solkin dates the present work to the 1760s.
Previous Cat/Ref Nos
Object ID: 1150
Davies 1946, pp. 175-76, cat. 302 (version 3); WGC, pp. 200-1 under pl. 81a (version 4); Cormack 1985, pp. 254 & 255; G. Reynolds, 'Masterpieces in Mourning', The Times Literary Supplement , no. 4158, 10 December 1982, p.1364.
Link to WG Constable Archive Record
More Information
Both figures in the foreground have babies so the washing could be swaddling.
Diagonal weave canvas. Very little craquelure overall. Foamboard backboard. Kate Lowry has noted: Painted canvas is 5mm narrower than stretcher down right hand edge and overhangs the lower edge slightly. Simple weave linen. Pine stretcher with five members and square mortice joints. Stretcher dates from relining. Double layer of white ground, probably commercially-prepared. Strong drying cracks have formed in standing foreground figure and in background to the right of her. These have been retouched. In raking light a pentiment is visible along the line of the top of the house wall showing that this was first painted as a diagonal and then broken. There is ultramarine blue in the areas of sky to left and right; prussian blue in clothes hanging over the balcony. XRF readings gave high levels of lead, presumably lead white in ground, iron for earth pigments in foreground and Prussian blue in trees at right. Vermilion identified as component of brown and pink mixes in building. Yellow of lady's dress may be lake pigment. Under high magnification many foreground areas show clear sprinkling of carbon black and bright yellow particles, which may be overpaint. This yellow was not clearly identified by XRF. Under UV light the dark grey cloud in centre sky appears to be overpaint and parts of the foreground may also be overpainted. All overpaint is under the varnish film.