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Art in Eighteenth-Century Rome


Giovanni Battista Lusieri
Rome 1754–1821 Athens

 A View of the Tiber Valley Towards the North from Monte Mario

graphite, pen and black ink, watercolor, on paper
23 1/8 x 38 inches
589 x 964 mm
signed, lower left, on the mount: ‘Titta f.’; watermark ‘J HONIG/ &/ ZOONEN’



Philip Yorke, later 3rd Earl of Hardwicke (1757 – 1834); commissioned from the artist around 1778 – 1779; by inheritance to his youngest daughter
Lady Caroline Harriet Yorke (1794 – 1873), married to John Somers-Cocks, 2nd Earl Somers
thence by descent at Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire, until
Christie’s, London, Old Master and British Works on Paper: Drawings, Watercolours, and Prints 1500 – 1900, 5 July 2022, lot 26



Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland, Expanding Horizons. Giovanni Battista Lusieri and the Panoramic Landscape, 30 June 2012–28 October 2012



Aidan Weston-Lewis, ed., Expanding Horizons. Giovanni Battista Lusieri and the Panoramic Landscape, Edinburgh, 2012, exh. cat., pp. 68-69, reproduced no. 11.

This monumental watercolor, a major work from Lusieri’s Roman period, shows the Tiber valley seen from the park of the Villa Mellini located on the heights of Monte Mario looking northward to a long stretch of the Via Flaminia crossing the Ponte Milvio in the middle ground of the composition, with the limestone ridge of Monte Soratte emerging in the blue mists of the horizon. A seated figure beneath the framing trees at the right gives scale to the composition and directs the viewer’s gaze to the river as it makes its way downstream to Rome, in a great serpentine curve, across the vast valley. This view, unique in the artist’s oeuvre, records the last stage of the journey made by many Grand Tour visitors before entering the Eternal City which reveals itself spectacularly from the top of Monte Mario, a pendant view of which Lusieri recorded in a similarly scaled watercolor of 1779, the first of four versions, the most famous of which is today in the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna (GG-403; fig. 1).

Fig. 1 Giovanni Battista Lusieri, View of Rome, 1783, watercolor on paper, 24 4/5 x 37 2/5 inches (63 x 95 cm). Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien, bequest Count Lamberg 1822, GG-403

Giambattista Lusieri was born in Rome on 14 October 1754, in the parish of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini to a silversmith, Mattia Lusieri, and his wife, Rosa Banfi. While little is recorded of his early training as a painter, he was almost exclusively a painter in watercolor and is the foremost topographical painter in late 18th-century Rome and Naples. His fame as a painter of landscapes among the English expatriate artist community and the aristocratic tourists was such that Sir William Hamilton recommended him in 1799 as the artist to accompany Lord Elgin on his journey to Greece and Turkey. Lusieri set off with Elgin for Athens where he remained for 22 years until his death in 1821 and where he negotiated the purchase of the Parthenon Marbles for Lord Elgin from the Turkish authorities. His meticulous watercolors of the Greek landscape and monuments, made over a period of nearly half his working life, were tragically lost at sea when the Cambrian, the ship carrying almost all his drawings from his days in Greece, was wrecked in 1828. Thus, apart from the handful of Greek watercolors some given as gifts, or presciently shipped by the artist for storage in Malta in 1811, the watercolors and drawings from his time in Rome and Naples are the works on which his fame rests.

As the Welsh painter and friend of Lusieri, Thomas Jones (see cat. 46), noted in his Memoirs, ‘Sig’re Giambattista Lusier, a Roman, usually called D[on]. Titta, who made tinted Drawings, which were deservedly admired for their Correctness and strict attention to Nature, and many of them purchased by Our English Cavaliers’. The present drawing was purchased directly, or commissioned, by Lusieri’s only securely identified and documented English patron in Rome, Philip Yorke, who succeeded his uncle as the 3rd Earl of Hardwicke in 1790. Yorke set off for the continent on his Grand Tour in 1777 with his Swiss tutor, one Colonel Wettstein, arriving in Rome on 21 October 1778, and remaining there until April 1779, save for a month-long visit to Naples and Paestum in January 1779. While in Rome, Yorke engaged the well-connected Scottish antiquarian, James Byres (see cat. 24), as his cicerone and agent. Among the many objects Yorke acquired on the Roman art market, including a portrait of himself standing next to a bust of Minerva Giustiniani, commissioned from Pompeo Batoni and dated 1779 (formerly, Tyttenhanger House, Herefordshire; private collection, England), were several watercolor views of Rome by Lusieri, including the present sheet, a black chalk drawing of the city (J. Paul Getty Museum, 2001.11; fig. 2), and a set of panoramic views of the rooftops of Rome seen from the Janiculum and the Aventine (The British Museum, 2014,7050.1), as well as three views of the Baths of Caracalla. Yorke kept these works in a portfolio for fifty years until his death in 1834 when they were divided equally among his four daughters. Our drawing, together with three of the panoramic views taken from the Janiculum and one of the views of the Baths of Caracalla (Cleveland Museum of Art, 2022.93; fig. 3), was inherited by his daughter, Lady Caroline Harriet Yorke. In 1815, she married John Somers-Cocks, 2nd Earl Somers, of Eastnor Castle, where the watercolor has remained until recently.

Fig. 2 Giovanni Battista Lusieri, An extensive view of Rome from the Orti della Pineta Sacchetti, 1780, black lead and black chalk, 302 x 429 mm, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2001.11
Fig. 3 Giovanni Battista Lusieri, A View of the Ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, 1779-1781, graphite, pen and black ink, watercolor, 509 x 657 mm, Cleveland Museum of Art, Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund 2022.93

Lusieri’s signal qualities were his poetic sensibility towards landscape and nature and his unequalled mastery of the watercolor medium. His practice was, astonishingly, given the large-scale paper on which he regularly worked, to paint on the spot not just to record the contours of the composition, but, whenever possible, to establish the coloring and an exactness of detail with the watercolor. In the open air, he would obsessively build up several layers of pure watercolor to a high degree of finish—the rich intensity of his coloring is without parallel in this medium—and, as he wrote in 1819 to Lord Elgin in an account of working methods, ‘to finish them from nature with the greatest diligence, so that his work might be worthy of public approval’. In this way of working, often finishing his watercolors on site rather than in the studio, he achieved, with the eye of a naturalist, an uncanny accuracy of the coloring of the saturated atmosphere of Italian light. It should also be noted that Lusieri’s refinement extended to his taste in Roman subjects. He eschewed the most obvious commercial sites in his paintings—no views of the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Forum, or Tivoli— in favor of rarely depicted monuments such as the Baths of Caracalla, or the great panoramas such as the views of the rooftops of Rome or that of the timeless, unspoilt world of our drawing.

The present example, showing the intensely green and fertile Tiber Valley in early morning light, is the only known view of this landscape and one of fewer than ten surviving panoramic vedute compositions (several of which are recorded in various versions) from the Roman period made between 1778 and Lusieri’s departure for Naples in late 1781 or early 1782. The drawing boasts an unbroken provenance, remaining in the same family for nearly 250 years since it was painted ca. 1779, and survives in a remarkable state of preservation.❖

W. Mark Brady

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