This is one of a pair of small pictures of the ruins of Roman villas painted by Richard Wilson between about 1763 and 1765. The other picture, also belonging to Tate, is entitled Hadrian's Villa (N00302). The title of the present picture, Maecenas' Villa, was first used by Wilson's pupil, Joseph Farington (1747-1821), who owned another similar version of the same subject, and which later belonged to John Constable (1776-1837). Even so, there is no absolute proof that the ruin in question relates to Maecenas's villa, although it is possible that Wilson may have considered it as such.
Maecenas' Villa appears to have been based upon a drawing (British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings) made by Wilson in Italy in 1752-3 (Constable, p.205, plate 87b; Solkin, p.162, reproduced). There are, however, noticeable compositional variations between the drawing and the finished picture, particularly the inclusion of the landscape to the left and the broken antique column and statue in the finished picture.
In 1776 Michael Angelo Rooker (1743 or 1746-1801) engraved a version of the subject as Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli for Twelve Original Views of Italy published by John Boydell (1719-1804). However, the engraving varies from known versions of the picture, including the present painting. Indeed, the fact that the engraving is inscribed 'Wilson del.' ('delineat' or drawn by), suggests that it was made from a drawing by Wilson - although not the drawing of the related subject in the British Museum.
Numerous copies were made from Wilson's own versions of the picture, and also probably from the engraved image. For a history of the picture and related versions by John Constable see the short text for Hadrian's Villa, Tate N00302.
W.G. Constable, Richard Wilson, London 1953, p.205, pl.87a
David H. Solkin, Richard Wilson. The Landscape of Reaction, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1982, pp.218-9, no.108, reproduced
Robin Hamlyn, Robert Vernon's gift. British Art for the Nation 1847, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1993, p.65, reproduced