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Art in Eighteenth-Century Rome


James Byres
Tonley 1733­–1817 Tonley

Villa Albani

pen, ink and wash on paper
29 x 20 inches
740 x 525 mm

inscribed, recto, lower center: ‘Plan of a Temple, built by Cardinal Albani in his Villa near Rome.’



Private Collection, United Kingdom

This large drawing was made by one of the leading British art dealers resident in Rome in the mid-18th century, James Byres. ‘A Scotch antiquary of experience and taste,’ Byres was extremely successful acting as a cicerone and agent for many of the most eminent British travelers (National Galleries, Scotland, PG 2601; fig. 1). Working from a large house in the Strada Paolina (Via dei Due Macelli behind the Palazzo di Propaganda Fide) Byres developed a sophisticated practice, offering his clients not only antiquarian tours but access to the full range of Grand Tour purchases, among which were architectural drawings of celebrated antique and modern buildings (Victoria and Albert Museum, E.21:6-2001; fig 2).[1] The present finely worked drawing shows the façade and plan of a structure constructed by Cardinal Alessandro Albani at his villa on the Via Salaria. Designed by Carlo Marchionni, the villa complex was the most visible and influential Neoclassical structure in Rome. Byres’s drawing shows the portico at the end of Marchionni’s eastern gallery which acted as an entrance to Albani’s recreation of a Roman bath complex. Byres’s drawing, made within a decade of the completion of the villa, demonstrates the popularity of its design, particularly among British tourists.

Fig. 1 Franciszek Smuglevicz, James Byres of Tonle and members of his family, ca. 1780, oil on canvas, 63.2 x 75.8 cm, National Galleries, Scotland, PG 2601
Fig. 2 James Byres, Architectural Drawing of the Villa Giulia, 1774, pen and ink and watercolor on paper, 512 x 677 mm, Victoria and Albert Museum, E.21:6-2001

James Byres had arrived in Rome in 1758 to train as a painter, although his first success was in architecture, for which he was awarded a prize in the Concorso Clementino at the Accademia di San Luca in 1762. Byres oversaw the production of large, elegant architectural drawings, a staple Grand Tour purchase.[2] The present sheet, labelled ‘Plan of a Temple bult by Cardinal Albani at his Villa near Rome’, and with a scale in ‘English feet’, is executed in elegant, controlled washes.

The drawing captures both Marchionni’s distinctive architecture—the profile of capitals, details of frieze and articulation of pilasters—as well as the specific sculpture the building was designed to house. Albani’s large and distinguished stock of antiquities—he was as much merchant as collector—were housed in a sequence of innovative displays. In Byres’s drawing, his famed sculpture of the so-called ‘Diana of Ephesus’ is seen prominently through the portico’s opening, possibly the statue now in the Musei Capitolini (MC1182; fig 3). This beautifully preserved drawing survives as potent evidence of the European-wide fascination with Albani’s innovative villa, perhaps the single most important structure for the development of ornamental Neoclassicism in Britain.❖

Fig. 3 Statua di Artemide Efesina, Roman copy after a 2nd cen. B.C. original, marble and bronze, H: 115 cm, Musei Capitolini, MC1182
Photo by Nicholas Hall 2023

Jonny Yarker

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