GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI (ROME 1754-1821 ATHENS)
GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI (ROME 1754-1821 ATHENS)
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FROM THE COLLECTION AT EASTNOR CASTLE (LOTS 25-27)Giovanni Battista Lusieri, or ‘Titta’ as he would sometimes sign his works, was hailed during his lifetime as one of the most gifted of all living landscape artists, and his works were eagerly sought after by collectors, notably British ones. Philip Yorke (1757-1834) – who in 1790 succeeded his uncle as 3rd Earl of Hardwicke – has emerged as the artist’s single most important earlier patron. All three watercolours from the Eastnor Collection are wonderful illustrations of this special patronage of the Grand Tour and have come directly from his collection by descent. They were commissioned by Yorke between 1778, upon his arrival in Rome, and 1779, before his return to England. Yorke, who would later continue his activity as a patron and collector in England and serve as a trustee of the British Museum, had set off on his Grand Tour to the continent by 1777 with his Swiss tutor. In Italy by May 1778, he reached Rome in October the same year, where he engaged the services of the antiquarian and dealer James Byres (1733-1817) as his guide and advisor. Byres soon became the young Yorke’s agent, acquiring works of art for him and enhancing the range of his patronage in Italy on his behalf when the latter became seriously ill and was forced to return to England. Enclosed with a letter from Byres to Yorke dated 19 September 1781 was a list of payments for works of art that the dealer had settled on his behalf, including several watercolours by Lusieri. While in Rome, Yorke had begun commissioning pictures from the international community of artists, but formed a particularly strong connection with Lusieri, and commissioned at least six works from him including the three present watercolours. His patronage would last well beyond his sojourn in Italy: he financed Lusieri’s transfer to Naples circa 1781-1782. ‘Don Titta’ is believed to have received his initial training in his father’s silversmith workshop, where preparatory drawings and designs required extreme precision and a high degree of finish to work precious metals: therein may lie the root of Lusieri’s meticulous technique. While ‘tinted drawings’ by Giovanni Paolo Panini were proving popular in 18th Century Italy, Lusieri took watercolour technique much further and mastered it as an expressive medium in its own right on a par with that of John Roberts Cozens and J.M.W. Turner. Superimposing multiple layers of pure colour, he achieved richness and sophistication by brilliantly capturing effects of light and aerial perspective. That a native Roman artist was able to adopt watercolour as his principal medium at this date and make a living from it was due in large part to the taste and market for such works that had been generated abroad and imported into Italy by artists such as the Swiss Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe Ducros (1748-1810), who was in Italy by the end of 1776, or the German Jakob Philipp Hackert (1737-1807). The growing fashion for watercolours was fuelled by the demand from foreign tourists for modestly priced views of Italy’s celebrated sights and monuments. By contrast with the more frequent romantic views of ruins and capricci, Lusieri favoured a rational documentary approach aiming to record the state of the buildings with clarity and precision. The artist channelled his more realistic approach to landscape into his own working practice, where he is reported to have produced his landscapes on the spot from the initial meticulous drawing all through to the final colouring. To capture a view or record a transient atmospheric effect in such exquisite detail and on such an ambitious scale was exceptional at the time, and has scarcely been emulated since.
GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI (ROME 1754-1821 ATHENS)

A panoramic view of Rome from the Aventine Hill towards the South

Details
GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI (ROME 1754-1821 ATHENS)
A panoramic view of Rome from the Aventine Hill towards the South
graphite, pen and black ink, watercolour, watermark beehive in a shield, with letters ‘J HONIG/ &/ ZOONEN’
55.5 x 97 cm (22 x 38 1⁄4 in.)
Provenance
Philip Yorke, later 3rd Earl of Hardwicke (1757-1834), commissioned from the artist around 1778-1779; thence by descent at Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire.
Exhibited
Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland, Expanding Horizons. Giovanni Battista Lusieri and the Panoramic Landscape, 2012, no. 8, ill. (catalogue by A. Weston-Lewis).

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Lot Essay

Although it would seem always to have been mounted and framed separately, as a stand-alone piece, this view from the Aventine Hill to San Paolo fuori le mure forms the last part of a larger four-sheet 180-degree panorama of Rome, along with two other watercolours sold in these Rooms (2 July 2013, lots 28 and 29). While the first and the third parts are now respectively in a private collection and in the British Museum, London, the second part of the panorama is untraced and presumably lost.
As well as showing a continuous prospect over the city, the four parts formed a chronological continuum, showing Lusieri’s ability to capture the atmospheric light and the naturally rich hues of the landscape presented through the changing times of day. As twilight gently creeps over the Campagna, the aerial perspective, the high viewpoint and the absence of an anchoring foreground or distracting staffage express the apparent neutrality of the artist’s vision.
This panoramic cityscape marks a critical new departure in Lusieri’s approach to landscape, presaging his similarly expansive views of Naples and its bay, while his topographical accuracy reaches new levels and provides precious records of the city – Rome before San Paolo fuori le mura burned down in 1823.
Probably executed in 1778 or 1779, these views are among Lusieri's earliest known works. The panorama is not mentioned in the correspondence which Yorke later exchanged with his Roman agent and so presumably accompanied him on his return to England in April 1779.

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