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Art in Eighteenth-Century Rome


Hubert Robert
Paris 1733–1808 Paris

Colonnade and Gardens at the Villa Medici

oil on canvas
29 1/2 x 25 1/8 inches
75 x 63.8 cm



Silvain-Raphael Baudouin (1715–1797), Brigadier of the King’s armies and Captain of the French Guards, until at least 1775, when they were engraved by Jean-François Janinet
Louis-Auguste-Augustin d’Affry (1713– 1793), commander-in-chief of the Premier des Corps de la Nation Amie et Alliee (la France)
thence by descent at Château de Givisiez, Switzerland, until
Christie’s, London, Important and Old Master Pictures, 6 July 2006, lot 59; acquired by the following
Private Collection, New York



Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, Hubert Robert, 26 June–2 October 2016



Margaret M. Grasselli, ed., Hubert Robert, Washington D.C., 2016, exh. cat., pp. 202-03, no. 8, reproduced p. 94.
Richard Rand, ‘Hubert Robert: Paris and Washington’, The Burlington Magazine, London, 2016, vol. 158, pp. 839-40, reproduced fig. 75.
Yuriko Jackall and Kari Rayner, ‘Becoming Hubert Robert: some new suggestions’, The Burlington Magazine, London, 2021, vol. 163, pp. 246-47, reproduced figs. 3-4.


Loan from the Assadour O. Tavitian Trust

This painting by Hubert Robert, depicting the popular tourist destination of Villa Medici, was created during the ten years Robert spent living in Rome. In this image, Robert illustrates the terrace outside the Villa, with well-dressed tourists promenading in the sunshine while two young artists sketch in the foreground. This painting creates a reality of Robert’s own making—while the Villa Medici was certainly a wellknown location, Robert took the liberty of changing the statuary along the exterior of the Villa and inserting the famed Borghese Vase into the composition, replacing Giambologna’s Mercury fountain. Despite these small changes, Robert’s depiction of Villa Medici offers a lively view of one of Rome’s most popular attractions in an astoundingly wellpreserved state; this painting was never relined, is on its original stretcher, and in its original frame.

Robert came to Rome as a young artist, and as Colin Bailey writes, ‘Rome created Hubert Robert. For nearly eleven years, he immersed himself in the city’s piazzas, palaces, and ruins, familiarized himself with its classical and modern monuments, studied its antiquities wherever they were to be found, and haunted its environs in the company of well-born connoisseurs and fellow students’ (‘Hubert Robert & the Joy of Ruins’, The New York Book Review, 2016). The garden courtyard of Villa Medici was a subject Hubert Robert returned to many times during his sojourn in Rome, beginning in the late 1750s. This painting, along with a red chalk drawing in the collection of Louis Antoine Prat, is one of the first depictions of Villa Medici executed by Robert. Both this painting and the drawing are dated to 1759, but he continued to create several more throughout his stay in Italy, which concluded in 1765. Some examples include sheets from the Ganay Album, which was disassembled and sold at Sotheby’s, Monaco, 1 December 1989, and an oil sketch of the Villa, which was sold at Christies, New York, 6 April 2006, lot 85. Robert’s penchant for elaborating on reality is an ongoing theme throughout these portrayals, as he continued to alter different aspects of the Villa’s structure and gardens to suit his own imagining.

By the 18th century, the Villa Medici had undergone several improvements and expansions. It was enlarged by the architect Nani di Banco Bigi in 1540, four years before it was passed to Cardinal Ricci da Montepulciano. The Villa was acquired by Cardinal Fernandino de Medici in 1576, and the Cardinal’s Mannerist taste heavily influenced the decoration of the famed garden façade. During Robert’s time in Rome, the Villa was the embassy for the Grand-Dukes of Tuscany. It became the French Academy in 1801, which it remains to this day. The Villa Medici continued to be a site of intrigue for tourists for centuries, as the American novelist Henry James called it ‘a fabled, haunted place’ and ‘perhaps the most enchanting place in Rome’ when he visited in 1873.

This painting was created as a pair; the other artwork portrays the Villa Giulia, another one of Robert’s favorite subjects. The image of Villa Giulia offers a stark contrast to the present work, as Robert chose to portray the interior and hayloft of the Villa Giulia as a dark and crumbling space. In contrast to the Villa Giulia, Robert’s depiction of the Villa Medici offers a lighthearted view of 18th-century Rome and its appeal to aristocratic travelers.

This painting was engraved in 1775 by Jean-Francois Janinet, and until recent years this engraving served as the only record of the painting’s existence. The full-color work by Janinet was celebrated for its quality at the time and captioned with the painting’s first known owner, the comte de Badouin, a Brigadier of the King’s Armies and Captain of the French Guards. There exists an inverse-image copy of this painting at the Art Institute of Chicago (1968.616) which was likely based on the engraving.❖

Alan P. Wintermute

Installation view of the Hub of the World exhibition at Nicholas Hall, 2023
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