William Pars

The Interior of the Colosseum

c.1775

Medium
Watercolour, ink and graphite on paper
Dimensions
Frame: 645 x 820 x 42 mm
support: 435 x 591 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Mrs Marion Adams in memory of her husband Canon J.H. Adams 1986
Reference
T04853

Display caption

Pars was sent to Rome on a bursary by the Society of Dilettanti in 1775; he remained in Italy until his death from pleurisy seven years later. Although he had been a portrait painter from the start of his career, and remained one, he is now known almost exclusively for his work as a landscape watercolourist. In Italy he associated with the large group of English artists working in Rome, notably John 'Warwick' Smith, Francis Towne and Thomas Jones. This watercolour was a preliminary study for a more highly finished version made for sale to a patron. The Colosseum had been consecrated in 1750 as a memorial to the early Christians martyred there, and a chapel and Stations of the Cross erected round the interior.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

T04853 Interior of the Colosseum c.1775

Pencil and watercolour with some pen on laid paper 435 × 591 (17 1/8 × 23 1/4)
Inscribed ‘SOCIETAS.CONFALONIS’ on the chapel
Presented by Mrs Marion Adams in memory of her husband Canon J.H.A. Adams 1986
Prov: As for T04852
Exh: Travels in Italy 1776–1783, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, Oct.–Dec. 1988 (41, repr.)

This sheet is more developed than T04852, the washes being more evolved, and the subject completed with appropriate large-scale figures. Technically it nevertheless appears to belong to the category of on-the-spot studies of which T04852 is one, since it is less carefully finished than Pars's presentation drawings usually are. The fact that the paper on which it is drawn was folded vertically down its centre also suggests that it was not intended for a patron. A fully worked-up version of the subject exists in the J. Leslie Wright Collection, Birmingham City Art Gallery (P.294'53), and a copy of that version, evidently made in Rome by Eliza Gore, daughter of the amateur Charles Gore and pupil of Philipp Hackert, has recently been acquired by the Ashmolean Museum.

As in the case of T04852, there are reasons for supposing that Pars made this drawing towards the beginning of his stay in Rome, though, again, he may have produced it in company with Towne or Smith in 1780 or 1781. Both Towne and Smith made views of the interior of the Colosseum, e.g. British Museum 1972 U.727 and 1936–7–4–11. The prominent figures of a praying woman and a friar at the foot of the cross in the left foreground are characteristic of Pars's topographical staffage, and reflect the fact that he had begun his career by painting a history subject with life-size figures and was a practising portrait painter throughout his life. They are more developed than one would expect to find in a preliminary study, but are likely to have been observed at the time. The Colosseum had been consecrated in 1750 as a memorial to the early Christians martyred there, with a chapel, seen here on the far side of the arena, and Stations of the Cross erected round the interior. The large cross at the left was the focus of regular ceremonies as well as of unofficial acts of worship such as that depicted.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996