Richard Wilson

Tivoli; Temple of the Sibyl and the Campagna


Not on display

Richard Wilson 1713–1782
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1003 × 1257 mm
frame: 1275 × 1518 × 135 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1973


This is one of several versions of the same subject painted by Wilson, in the years following his return from Italy in 1756 or 1757. Wilson referred to compositions such as the present one, which he repeated over and again, as 'good breeders' (Constable, p.58), indicating their popularity and commercial success.

The origins of the present composition appear to lie in a related painting (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin), which (according to an inscription on the reverse) was one of two works painted in 1752 for the Irish collector and Grand Tourist Joseph Henry (1727-96). This work, also entitled Tivoli: the Temple of the Sibyl and the Campagna, differs principally from the Tate picture in its much larger size and the arrangement of the figures in the foreground, which include the figure of an artist with an easel. Wilson may in turn have based this painting upon a chalk drawing, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Constable, plate 116a). The drawing, which includes several figures sheltering beneath a large parasol, was undoubtedly made on the spot, probably sometime between Wilson's arrival in Rome towards the end of 1751 and 1752.

The present picture, in common with other known versions, depicts a view across the gorge of the river Aniene (or 'Anio'), to the Roman 'Campagna', or plain, and the distant city of Rome to the south-west. At the left, perched on the cliff edge, is a small cluster of ancient buildings. These include the circular Roman Temple of Vesta (converted in the Middle Ages to a church), and the rectangular Temple of the Tiburtine Sibyl, which by the eighteenth century served as the church of San Giorgio.

By the first century BC, Tivoli (the classical town of Tibur), was a noted resort for Rome's wealthier citizens, who built lavish villas and temples to their most revered deities. It was particularly beloved by the emperor Augustus (63 B.C.- A.D.14) and by the poet Horace (65 B.C.-A.D.8). During the Renaissance Tivoli was the residence of Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, who built a magnificent villa and surrounding gardens, which continue to attract visitors today.

Although Wilson was guided by the splendour of the natural scenery in composing his various paintings of Tivoli and the Temple of the Sibyl, his carefully planned compositions also relied upon the classical landscape paintings made a century earlier by Claude Lorrain (1600-82) and Gaspard Dughet (1615-75), as well as more recent artists such as Jan Frans van Bloemen ('l'Orizzonte') (1662-1749) and Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-89). It has been suggested that Wilson's own view of Tivoli and the Temple of the Sibyl may have been influenced by van Bloemen's painting of the same subject of about 1710-20 (David H. Solkin, Richard Wilson. The Landscape of Reaction, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1982, p.183, fig. 18).

Wilson exhibited versions of the present composition twice during his career, first at the Society of Artists in 1763, and again at the Royal Academy in 1777, both pictures being described in the exhibition catalogue as 'A View from Tivoli, towards Rome'. The early history of the present picture in unknown. By the late nineteenth century it belonged to the American collector P A B Widener of Philadelphia. It returned to England in the early years of the twentieth century, and was purchased in 1936 by Sir William Collingwood, in whose family it remained until 1973, when it was accepted by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue from the Collingwood family and transferred to the Tate Gallery.

Further reading:

W.G. Constable, Richard Wilson, London 1953, pp.222-3, p.115a

Martin Postle
June 2001

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Display caption

Tivoli is seen from across the gorge of the river Aniene (or 'Anio'), with the Roman 'Campagna' or plain and the city of Rome itself in the distance. To the left, on the cliff edge, is a small cluster of ancient buildings. These include the circular Roman Temple of Vesta, and the rectangular Temple of the Tiburtine Sibyl.

By the first century BC, Tivoli (the classical town of Tibur), was a favourite resort of Rome's wealthier citizens, including the Emperor Augustus and the poet Horace. Wilson's patrons revelled in his ability to produce lyrical evocations of such classical sites.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Richard Wilson 1713/14–1782

T01706 Tivoli; Temply of the Sibyl and the Campagna circa 1765-70

Not inscribed.
Canvas, painted surface, 39½ x 49½ (100.4x 125.7).
Accepted by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue from the Callingwood family in part-satisfaction of Estate Duty. Transferred to the Tate Gallery 1973.
Coll: The painting could be any of the following: (1) ‘A View from Tivoli towards Rome’, exh. R.A., 1777 (378); (2) ‘The Campagna, Rome’, exh. B.I. 1848 (167) lent by Rev. Allen Cooper, almost certainly the same as ‘Tivoli and the Campagna’ exh. B.I. 1863 (155) lent by Mrs Allen Cooper; (3) ‘Tivoli, looking over the Campagna’, anon sale (Rev. H. C. Powles), Christie’s 3 June 1876 (41) bought in; (4) ‘A View of Tivoli with Two figures and a dog in the foreground’, James Morris sale, Christie’s 3 March 1883 (38) bought Lesser; (5) ‘Falls of Tivoli: Wooded foreground in which are seen a man, a woman and dog; high hill, crowned with buildings, on the left, distant view of Rome, seen across the Campagna’, 39 x 49, exh. R.A. 1884 (202) lent J. D. Linton. The subsequent history of what seems to be definitely this picture is as follows: Angerstein collection (according to Widener catalogue, but not traced); bought by P. A. B. Widener from Wallis & Cox 1893, traded in May 1908 to Agnew, who sold it to R.A. Tatton May 1911; sold anonymously at Christie’s 20 November 1936 (36) bought Agnew; sold to William Collingwood; Sir Edward Collingwood.
Exh: ? R.A. 1777 (378); ? B.I. 1848 (167) and 1863 (155); ?R.A. 1884 (202); Agnew May–June 1937(11).
Lit: Catalogue of Paintings in the Widener Collection, Lynnewood Hall, Philadelphia, 11, 1900, No. 158, repr. with note describing it as formerly in the Angerstein collection; Catalogue of Pictures at Cuerden Hall, Preston, the Property of Reginald A. Tatton 1913, p.38, No.62; W. G. Constable, Richard Wilson, 1953, p.222, p.115a; D. Sutton and A. Clements, An Italian Sketchbook by Richard Wilson R.A. 1968, p.31 (for Boston version).
Repr: Connoisseur, XCIX, June 1937, p.352.

The painting shows the gorge of the Anio with the Temple of the Sibyl on the cliff on the left. Beyond is the Roman Campagna with the dome of St Peter’s visible in the distance.

The composition was evidently one of Wilson’s ‘good breeders’ and a large number of versions is listed by Constable. The subject is based on on-the-spot sketches made during the artist’s stay in Italy 1750–c.1757 (cf. drawing in Victoria & Albert Museum, Dyce 656, repr. Constable, 1953, pl.116a) and the earliest oil version is probably the ‘View of Tivoli’ bought by Joseph Henry of Straffan in Rome, 1752, now in the National Gallery of Ireland (cat.747; repr. in Apollo, XCIX, February 1974, p.111). A very large upright version (90 x 71 in., Constable, 1953, repr.115b) is in the Weld collection at Lulworth Manor, Dorset, and was painted for Ince Blundell Hall sometime between 1763–67. A version with additional figures in the mid-distance was engraved by W. Byrne in reverse as No.3 in a series published by Boydell in 1765. The engraving appears to be of the painting now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (25¿ x 33¿ in., repr. in Sutton & Clements, 1968, p.31, giving wrong size), which is probably not unconnected with the fact that most versions and copies also follow the Philadelphia version closely. Two drawings based on this composition and attributed to Wilson’s pupils Johnson Carr and William Hodges were, respectively, in the collections of Mrs F. L. Evans and Sir Edward Marsh (repr. in B. Ford, The Drawings of Richard Wilson, 1951, pls.82 and 83).

The high quality of the Tate painting, however, leaves no doubt that it is an autograph, if probably somewhat later, work. An interesting feature is the extensive overpainting of the originally much brighter sky with a duller, greyer shade, particularly noticeable where the artist was working among the branches of the trees on the right, thus concentrating the light more dramatically on the buildings on the cliff to the left. This and the pentimenti of the branches of the tree visible on the top right hand corner indicate that this is a much more deliberately composed painting, consistent with a later date.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.

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