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

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.)
Philip Yorke, later 3rd Earl of Hardwicke (1757-1834), commissioned from the artist around 1778-1779; thence by descent at Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire.
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

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. This watercolour from the Eastnor Collection is a wonderful illustration of this special patronage of the Grand Tour and have come directly from his collection by descent. 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. His patronage would last well beyond his sojourn in Italy: he financed Lusieri’s transfer to Naples circa 1781-1782.

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.

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.

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