The Hon. Appollonia Langdale, the youngest of three daughters and co-heirs of Marmaduke, 5th Lord Langdale of Holme, married Hugh, 5th Baron Clifford (1756-92) in 1780. Her husband succeeded his father as the 5th Baron Clifford, of Chudleigh, in 1783. Both the Clifford and the Langdale families were Roman Catholic. Lord Clifford travelled to Italy in 1787 where he was recorded in Venice by July. He returned to Italy with his wife in 1790 and they were recorded in Venice in September but had moved to Rome by November that year. Lady Clifford sat to Fagan in May 1791 and was evidently pleased with the resultant portrait which was finally finished in November 1791, recommending Fagan to Mrs Villiers, the wife of the Hon. John Charles Villiers (1757-1838), who began to sit to him in June that year. The Cliffords had travelled to Ischia in April 1791, Castle Gandolfo, where they stayed with Thomas Jenkins, in June, and Naples from June to October 1791, returning to Rome in November. Lord Cifford made his will the following year and died in Munich in January 1792.
Robert Fagan was born in London, the son of a baker from Cork, and studied at the Royal Academy. He visited Rome for the first time in 1781, returning to England in 1782. He returned to Italy in 1784, where he was to remain for the rest of his life, becoming a prominent figure among the British and Irish community of artists then in Rome and developing a neo-classical style of portraiture akin to that of his contemporaries Francois Xavier Fabre (1766-1837) and Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1740-1808), as well as executing history paintings. Aside from portraiture, Fagan also worked as a dealer in antiquities and old master paintings, and as an agent for some of the most important grand tourists, of whom one of the most notable was Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol, taking advantage of the sales that occurred as a result of Napoleon's invasion of the Papal States in June 1796. Among the works of art that he was involved in acquiring were the celebrated pair of classical landscapes by Claude owned by Prince Altieri which he smuggled out of Rome and sold to William Beckford (now National Trust, Anglesey Abbey). Fagan was a committed and successful archaeologist conducting excavations at Gabii (1792) with Gavin Hamilton; Campo Iemini, Laurentum with Sir Corbet Corbet and Prince Augustus Frederick (1794-6); Via Appia and Rocca di Papa (1794); Privernum (1796); and Ostia (1794-1802) where he was responsible for the discovery of the Mithraeum and the Imperial Palace. Fagan was forced by the French to move from Rome to Palermo in 1807 having upset the French administration with his political activities and in 1809 he was made British Consul General for Sicily and Malta. In Sicily he continued his interest in archaeology and carried out excavations at Tindari and Selinute. However, Fagan was increasingly dogged in his latter years by financial pressure which finally led to his suicide in 1816. His self portrait with his second wife Maria Ludovica Flanjani is in the Hunt Museum, Limerick.
The present work, the earliest of Fagan's known portraits, shows Lady Clifford seated on a Klismos chair, with the Colosseum beyond her. It illustrates not only his interest in archaelogy but his development of an elegant neoclassical style which can be compared to portraits by his Irish contemporary Hugh Douglas Hamilton and Angelica Kauffmann who were active in Rome at the time.