GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI (ROME 1754-1821 ATHENS)
GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI (ROME 1754-1821 ATHENS)
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FROM THE COLLECTION AT EASTNOR CASTLE
GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI (ROME 1754-1821 ATHENS)

A view of the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla

Details
GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI (ROME 1754-1821 ATHENS)
A view of the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla
graphite, pen and black ink, watercolour
50.9 x 65.7 cm (20 x 26 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. 3, ill. (catalogue by A. Weston-Lewis).

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Lot Essay

Lusieri’s decision to depict the Baths of Caracalla from within is remarkably fresh and original. In fact the artist largely avoided representing the most obviously commercial ancient sights of Rome and no standard subjects such as the Pantheon, Colosseum, Arch of Constantine, Roman Forum or Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli are to be found in his oeuvre. In representing a subject of which images were not in circulation Lusieri was able to exercise freely his eagle eye for architectural details and scenic plays of light, independently of iconographic tradition. His view of the Baths was repeated almost identically in a 1779 print by Giovanni Volpato (1732-1803) and in a watercolour by Abraham-Rodolphe-Louis Ducros (1748-1810), implying they may have been drawing together or aware of each other’s works.
Philip Yorke’s journal expresses his admiration for the Roman Baths, of which he was given a guided tour by his agent James Byres on 26 October 1778. Following his visit, he commissioned from Lusieri four views of the site, and while two of them are now lost, two further ‘Views of the baths of Caracalla’, including the Eastnor watercolour, appears in Byres’ 1781 list of payments (paid ‘24.60 roman crowns’).
Lusieri produced various versions of the Baths of Caracalla. This example from the Eastnor Collection is one of the few originals, as distinct from replicas that were made on tracing paper. The presence of figures emphasizes the massive scale of the ancient ruins. There is another version of the Baths of Caracalla from Villa Mattei in the collection of the Rhode Island School of Design (inv. 57.098; op. cit., no. 4, ill.) but it does not seem to have been part of the 1778-1779 commission.

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