Thomas Jones

In the Road to Santa Maria de’Monti, near Naples: Morning


Thomas Jones 1742–1803
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Support: 211 × 278 mm
Purchased 1982

Display caption

Jones spent nearly eight years in Italy, from 1776 to 1783, chiefly in Rome and Naples. He passed his time, he wrote, 'very Agreeably rambling about and Making a Number of Views and Sketches of the Different scenes in this most picturesque Country'. Sometimes his friends among the English artists in Italy, including Francis Towne and William Pars, accompanied him. The road depicted here, overhung with umbrella pines and walnut trees, was a favourite haunt - a 'romantick Dingle' Jones called it. It was while lodging in Naples that Jones made his now famous oil sketches of roof top views.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry


Pencil and watercolour on hand-made laid paper 8 5/16 × 10 15/16 (211 × 278)
Inscribed ‘In the Road to Sa Ma de’ Monti by Naples | 10th May 1781-' (the date corrected from ‘[?] Oct 1780’) in pencil upper centre; ‘morng’ (i.e. morning) and again more faintly ‘morng’, with a sketch of the sun's rays, in pencil t.r. and ‘wallnut’ in pencil within branches of a tree on the left; ‘Mrs Adams’ on the back
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: ? by collateral descent from the artist until 1978; sold, as ‘The Property of a Lady’, Christie's 14 March 1978 (101, repr.) £3,200 bt Morton Morris & Co. Ltd, from whom purchased by the Tate Gallery
Exh: English Watercolour Drawings, Spink 1979 (5, repr.)
Lit: [ed. A.P. Oppé], ‘Memoirs of Thomas Jones’, Walpole Society, XXXII, 1951, pp.102–4

Santa Maria de' Monti, not yet identified, appears to have been a church or convent (? no longer extant) in the Naples countryside, within easy walking distance of the city, in the direction (presumably) of Capo di Monte.

In his ‘Memoirs’ Jones does not mention any of the numerous drawings which he made during 1781 of the road to Santa Maria de' Monti, though he does describe something of the appeal which ‘this romantick place’ had for him. On 2 June 1781 he made a long and partly retrospective entry which begins with an account of walking from his lodgings in Naples to meet his fellow-artist William Pars, who had lodgings at Capo di Monte, ‘at an Osteria in the road to S'a M'a de Monti’ Jones continues, ‘In this hollow Way is a most beautiful Series of picturesque Objects, which I discovered by Accident in one of my perambulations - Here may visibly be traced the Scenery that Salvator Rosa formed himself upon - Only taking away the Pinetrees, which were, perhaps, planted since his time, and which indicate a State of Cultivation not suited to his gloomy mind, with the addition of Water & a few Banditti - And every hundred yards presents you with a new and perfect Composition of that Master -’.

Jones continues, ‘When Towne was in Naples, I took him with me to see this romantick place, with which he seemed much delighted’. Earlier entries record that Francis Towne arrived in Naples on 8 March 1781, returning to Rome on 3 April 1781, and that during that time Jones offered Towne his services as cicerone, and was able to conduct him to ‘many picturesque Scenes of my Own discovery, entirely out of the common road of occasional visitors’. Evidently Jones's fascination with the road to Santa Maria de' Monti lay at least partly in the fact that it was of his ‘own discovery’.

Under 2 June 1781 Jones recounts a ‘whimsical incident’ which he and Towne had encountered during their walk along this road: 'Proceeding up the valley whose boundaries contracted more and more as we advanced, increasing in proportion the Gloominess of the Scene; We arrived at a spot, which might very properly have been termed the Land of Darkness & the shadow of Death - This sequestered place was environed on all Sides, with hanging rocks here and there protruding themselves from behind dark masses of a variety of wild Shrubs, and overshadowed by branching Trees - Here, says I, Mr Towne, is Salvator Rosa in perfection we only want Banditti to compleat the picture - I had scarcely uttered the words, when turning round a Projection of the Rocks, we all-at once pop'd upon three ugly-looking fellows dressed in the fantastic garb of the Sbirri di Campagna, with long knives, cutting up a dead jackass... Towne started back as if struck by an Electric Shock - ... “I'll go no farther” says he, with a most solemn face, adding with a forced smile that however he might admire such Scenes in a Picture - he did not relish them in Nature, - So we wheeled about and returned to the more cultivated environs of the City-'.

Jones adds ‘I have many a time since that Period, taken a solitary walk up this romantick Dingle, and seen the bleached and scattered bones of the poor animal but I thank God, never met with Robbers or assassins there or anywhere else in the Country-’.

Jones made at least thirteen studies, mostly in watercolour (some in pencil only), of different stretches of the winding road to Santa Maria de' Monti. Ten of these were shown in the Thomas Jones exhibition, Marble Hill House, Twickenham and National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, June–September 1970 (49–55, 57: the 1970 exhibition numbers are used below to distinguish versions), lent from private collections except for no.57, lent by the Whitworth Art Gallery. T03367 was not exhibited in 1970; nor was a watercolour version in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art (B 1977.14.5299). These drawings (except for no.51b, which is undated) are almost all dated between 2 April and 10 May 1781; no.57 is dated 6 October 1781. Like T03367, nos. 51a, 54 and 55 are dated 10 May 1781; like T03367, no.51a is a view made in the morning.

The different studies are all made from different points along the road, and (apparently) at different times of day. Walnut trees, clumps of umbrella pines and rocky banks overhung with plants and shrubs are common to all of them. In T03367, Jones shows the rays of the morning sun shining from the top right of his picture, which must be the east; the view must therefore be looking northwards, presumably to Capo di Monte, with the city of Naples behind him. The sun in T03367 appears to be just striking the right of the trees and shrubs, indicating that it is still some hours before midday, and the colouring is fresh and light-toned. Some of the other studies have heavily shadowed foregrounds and are more sombre in colouring, but none of them is ‘gloomy’ in the Salvator-esque sense. The drawings express Jones's recurring private pleasure in the scene; the ‘Memoirs’, characteristically, give rein to an extrovert sense of humour, partly at the expense of his more timid fellow-artist Francis Towne.

The tall several-storeyed building in the background of T03367, which has a square tower surmounted by a cupola, has not been identified; it cannot be Santa Maria de' Monti, which Jones shows in some of the other studies as a fairly squat (?) two-storeyed building with a low dome at one point on its otherwise flat roof.

An oil sketch of the road, inscribed ‘Near Capo di Monte Naples’ (13 1/2 × 19in) is in the collection of John Appleby.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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