Thomas Manby

The Ruins of the Colosseum


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Thomas Manby c.1633–1695
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Support: 382 × 279 mm
Purchased 1988

Catalogue entry

Thomas Manby ?1633–1695

The Ruins of the Colosseum
Pencil, ink and grey wash on paper
382 x 279 mm
Inscribed in ink ‘Manby 6’ top centre
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1988

Ownership history
… ; Francis Place (died 1728); by descent to Elizabeth Fraser and thence, on her death in 1873, to her second husband, Patrick Allen Fraser, of Hospitalfields, Arbroath; his sale Sotheby’s, 10 June 1931 (no.149, eleven drawings, unattributed), bought by Bernard Squire; Iolo A. Williams, from whom purchased, through exchange, by L.G. Duke; his sale Sotheby’s, 22 October 1970 (no.129), bought Sanders of Oxford with whom remained as stock until sold Christie’s, 15 November 1988 (no.46); bought by Tate Gallery.

Exhibition history
Mary Beale: Portrait of a Seventeenth-Century Painter, Her Family and Her Studio, Geffrye Museum, London, 1999.

Iolo Williams, ‘Thomas Manby, a 17th Century Landscape Painter’, Apollo, May 1936, pp.276–7.
Lindsay Stainton and Christopher White, Drawing in England from Hilliard to Hogarth, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, London 1988, pp.163–4.
Tabitha Barber, with Mary Bustin, Mary Beale: Portrait of a Seventeenth-Century Painter, Her Family and Her Studio, exhibition catalogue, Geffrye Museum, London 1999, no.43, p.86.
Kim Sloan, A Noble Art: Amateur Artists and Drawing Masters c.1600–1800, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, London 2000, pp.17, 24–5.

The first biography of Manby, published by Bainbrigg Buckeridge in 1706, describes him as ‘a good English Landskip-Painter, who had been several times in Italy, and consequently painted much after the Italian manner’.1 It is difficult to judge him as an artist today as only eleven works by him are known, all ink drawings on paper depicting natural Italian landscapes and ruins, of which this is one. They were once owned by Francis Place and descended as a group to Patrick Allen Fraser from whose collection they were dispersed in 1931.2 Many of the drawings are inscribed in ink in a contemporary or near contemporary hand, ‘Manby’, followed by one or two numerals (this drawing is inscribed ‘Manby 6’). It is on the basis of these inscriptions (not confirmable as signatures) that the attribution to Manby rests.

Manby was undoubtedly one of the earliest English landscape artists, although all his known surviving works are Italian views. As well as the Colosseum he sketched the Baths of Caracalla, Hadrian’s Villa (inscribed on the reverse ‘The Ruens of Adrians / Villa’, and took views of the Ponte Lucano and the Tomb of Plautius at Tivoli.3 Stylistically his drawings display a knowledge of Dutch-Italianate artists such as Bartholomeus Breenbergh (1598–1657), but perhaps of more significance to Manby were the landscape sketches of the handful of Dutch artists trained in this manner who worked in England: Thomas Wyck, who was in England from at least 1665 (but who died in Haarlem in 1677); Hendrick Danckerts, in England from the early 1660s; and Jan Vandervaart, first documented in London in 1675. Like them, and unlike the tradition of precise topographical observation more commonly practiced in Britain, Manby dispenses with complete dependence on a pencil or pen outline and sketches more freely, with the brush.4 Many of his drawings focus on ruins, which largely fill the sheet. Here again, Manby’s influence seems to have been Dutch-Italianate artists such as Breenbergh, and Danckerts in England. Francis Place’s later approach to ruins, for example Knaresborough Castle, the Keep 1703 (British Museum, London) echoes this manner, thus making his ownership of Manby’s work of some significance.5 Whether the two knew each other is not known but Manby’s drawings, both in style and subject matter, seem to have appealed to Place’s amateur virtuoso and antiquarian interests.

Whether Manby himself was an amateur or a professional artist is a matter of speculation. That his surviving sketches are mainly of classical Roman sites well known to the educated seventeenth-century tourist suggest they were done for pleasure. A slightly different picture of Manby emerges from contemporary sources, however. Almost all references to him occur in the notebooks of Charles Beale, husband of the portraitist Mary Beale. In July 1672 Manby informed Beale of the death of the artist Isaac Fuller; in September 1676 Beale sent him ‘a little Italian book il partito di Donni about Painting’ (Antonio Francesco Doni, Disegno … partito in piu ragionamenti, ne quail si tratta dell Scoltura et Pittura, 1549); in the following February, 1677, he was supplied with expensive pigments manufactured by Beale (‘2 ounces of very good Lake of my making and about 1oz & ½ of excellent Pink’) as payment for the landscape background he had painted in Mary Beale’s portrait of the Countess of Clare; and on 7 April 1681 Beale lent him his ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’s Trattero della Pittura’ that was ‘bound upon Black Leather wch I had of Mr Flatman’.6 It is clear from these references that not only was Manby a participating member of the London art community, who shared with Beale and Flatman a gentlemanly interest in art literature, but that, on a more practical level, as well sketching on paper he also worked in oil. This is further substantiated by the sale from Viscount Strangford’s collection in 1708 of two paintings by him, one a ‘View of the Castle of St Angelo’.7 The subject of the latter suggests that Manby’s sketching activities in and around Rome were also directed towards the creation of oil paintings.

Buckeridge, writing ten years after Manby’s death, notes that Manby was also ‘famous for bringing over from Italy a good Collection of pictures, which were sold at the banqueting-house about the latter end of King Charles II’s reign’. Many artists in fact doubled as picture dealers but it is unclear if Buckeridge’s statement refers to Manby in this capacity, or is a muddled reference to the sale of his personal collection following his death in 1695 (John Cocks, at the Golden Triangle, Long Acre, 4 February 1696).8 The sale included the collection of the sculptor Edward Pierce, who had also died in 1695, giving rise to the misapprehension that the two had entered a dealing partnership and that the ‘curious collection of Books, Drawings, Prints, models, and Plaster Figures’ offered for auction was their joint stock.

Manby died in November 1695 and was buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields. His probate inventory, dated 10 December 1695, values his entire estate at only £46.9s but includes thirty-seven pictures, ‘a parcel of Itallian Lattin and English bookes’, prints, drawings and the practical paraphernalia of an artist; ‘a stone to Grind Collours upon’ and a small parcel of expensive ultramarine.9 Whether he was a professional artist relying on his painting for a living, or otherwise, cannot be confirmed. The remnants of furniture, including a ‘walnutt tree’ pier set, hint at a formerly enjoyed degree of comfort and fashion although, at the time of the inventory being drawn up, there was only brass and pewter in the house, no silver.10 An attached codicil, dated 20 December 1695, gives details of Manby’s past need to ‘pawne or Mortgage’, and eventually to sell for £50, a picture to the artist John Closterman, suggesting that his later years were not ones of financial ease.

Tabitha Barber
July 2006


1 Bainbrigg Buckeridge, ‘An Essay Towards an English School of Painters’, in R. de Piles, The Art of Painting, London 1706, p.449.
2 Most of the drawings are now in public collections: the British Museum has four, the Victoria and Albert Museum two, one is in the collection of the Courtauld Institute, one is at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, and a further drawing was sold at Sotheby’s on 19 November 1992 (no.170) from the collection of Dudley Snelgrove.
3 For the Ruins of Hadrian’s Villa (British Museum, London) see Kim Sloan, A Noble Art, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, London 2000, no.7, pp.24–5. For The Ponte Lucano, near Tivoli (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven) see Lindsay Stainton and Christopher Wright, Drawings in England from Hilliard to Hogarth, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, London 1987, no.125, pp.163–4.
4 Sloan 2000, p.17.
5 Ibid., p.25.
6 The 1672 and 1676 references occur in George Vertue’s transcripts from Charles Beale’s notebooks of those years, now lost. See George Vertue, ‘Notebooks IV’, Walpole Society, vol.24, 1935–6, pp.169 and 174. The 1677 notebook is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford; that for 1681 is in the Library and Archive, National Portrait Gallery, London. Mary Beale’s portrait of the Countess of Clare, with Manby’s landscape background, has in the past been identified as the ex-Welbeck Abbey picture, last seen at Bonham’s, 9 July 2002 (no.122). The identification is incorrect, however, and the work is not by Mary Beale.
7 Henry V.S. Ogden and Margaret S. Ogden, English Taste in Landscape in the Seventeenth Century, Ann Arbor 1955, p.121.
8 Advertised in the London Gazette on 30 January 1696, no catalogue known.
9 The National Archives, PRO PROB 32/38/71.
10 With thanks to Tessa Murdoch for her comments on the furnishings.

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