The Grand Tour was traditionally undertaken by young gentlemen with the means to travel for a year, often with a tutor or cicerone, to enjoy the sights and acquire works of art, both recent and antique. Although there were important French, Dutch, German, Polish, Russian and even American Grand Tourists (Philip Livingston who signed the Declaration of Independence was painted by Batoni in 1783), the majority were members of the British and Irish aristocracy. Collections such as those at Burghley House and Lamport Hall and publications such as Addison’s Remarks on Several Parts of Italyof 1704 testify to the early interest of the British in studying abroad.
The Tour involved travel by coach through France, across the Alps and down into Italy. Cities on the itinerary might include Turin and Milan but compulsory stopping points were, as they still are, Venice, Florence, and Rome. Many would go on to Naples which had a sizeable English community, important classical sites and even an active volcano. As the Grand Tour attracted more travelers it spawned an industry of its own: Tour guides, art dealers (often English artists), restorers, hoteliers, prostitutes, singers and musicians all catered to this influx of well-heeled visitors. Above all, the Grand Tour encouraged artists to paint works specifically aimed at this new type of patron: views of the major Italian cities and portraits. While the greatest practitioners of view painting were based in Venice, it was in Rome that the Grand Tourist had his portrait painted.
The high-water mark of the Grand Tour was in the third quarter of the 18th century. Fueled by peace and the growing wealth of a maritime empire, the British travelers had money to spend; large Neoclassical country houses were being built in England and Ireland and needed to be filled. A central part of these new collections were the portraits which memorialized the visitor’s time in Rome and established his—the travelers were nearly always male—cultural credentials, usually with a famous classical sculpture as a prop or a Roman sight as the background.
Of the portrait painters who made their fortune in Rome, Pompeo Batoni was the most prolific. However, the market for such portraits was such that other artists were also able to establish thriving studios there. Chief among them were Anton Raphael Mengs and his star pupil Anton von Maron. Like his rival Batoni, Mengs was foremost a history painter and among his most celebrated works is the ceiling fresco of Parnassus painted for the Villa Albani. At the same time, he painted portraits including that of his fellow countryman and chief patron, the Elector of Saxony. When Mengs took up Charles III’s first invitation to go to Madrid in 1761, Von Maron remained as Batoni’s chief rival as the leading portraitist in the city. Lord Herbert went to the Eternal City in 1779 and to help him, John Hippisley provided a list of the names and addresses of British and foreign artists who he might commission works from in Rome. The list included Anton von Maron as well as Pompeo Batoni and Jakob Philipp Hackert. Von Maron’s reputation reached its peak in the 1780s when he was elected Principe of the Accademia di San Luca. He painted portraits for many of its members including that of the antiquarian dealers James Byres, Thomas Jenkins and the artist Andrea Vici.
This painting is one of a series painted in the 1760s in which we see Von Maron consciously emulating Batoni. The group includes another double portrait which shows two Grand Tourists posing in front of the Colosseum (Zamek Królewski w Warszawie, ZKW 3929; fig. 1) and another from 1766 of Sir Robert Clive and a Servant (Palazzo Barberini, 2607). Von Maron’s sitters included the celebrated German critic and thinker Johann Winckelmann, whom the artist painted a year after our portrait, the Scottish architect and art dealer James Byres (see cat. 24) painted in Van Dyck costume and William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (Devonshire Collection, PA 423). Although Von Maron developed a recognizable, individual style—his touch is softer than that of his competitors and the figures usually occupy a smaller part of his composition—he nevertheless adapted to the requirements of the classic Grand Tour portrait. As in many paintings by Batoni, a faithful dog is featured at the sitter’s feet while in the background we see the massive Arch of Constantine, here placed in a stormy Campagna landscape.
The sitters in this work have so far eluded identification though the names of James Barry and James Byres have been proposed. However, it would seem more likely that we are looking here at two gentlemen of higher rank. The standing figure in brown is probably a tutor or cicerone, explaining the view to his more opulently dressed patron. Portrayals of the young aristocrat with his tutor were a common trope in Grand Tour portraiture: the Portrait of Hugh Lord Warkworth with his tutor the Reverend Jonathan Lippyat painted by Nathaniel Dance-Holland in Rome in 1762 (Syon House) is an example. Alternatively, the present portrait could represent two fellow tourists painted in the same vein as Batoni’s Portrait of Sir Samuel Gideon with a Companion of 1767 (National Gallery of Victoria, 1325-5) which illustrates the vogue for depictions of friendships forged on the Grand Tour.
This impressive double portrait was acquired by the Roman art historian Andrea Busiri Vici in 1946 and was subsequently included in the landmark exhibition held in Rome in 1959, Il Settecento a Roma, a critical event in the history of the appreciation of Roman 18th-century art.❖