Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Tivoli - Variations on an 18th Century Landscape

Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), The Falls at Tivoli
Petit Palais, Paris
Tivoli: Variations on a landscape in the 18th century
Musée Cognac-Jay, Paris
18th November 2010 - 20th February 2011
Curator: José de Los Llanos, Director of the Cognac-Jay Museum

The exhibition Tivoli: Variations on a landscape in the eighteenth century offers an original reflection on the evolution of landscape painting from 1720 to 1830 through a particular subject: the site of Tivoli and its famous Temple of the Sibyl.

A location famous since antiquity, Tibur (the Latin name for Tivoli) was made fashionable by the Emperor Augustus and Maecenas, the lavish patron of the arts, and celebrated by the poets Catullus and Horace (first century BC). The Albunean Sibyl practised her divination here.
attributed to Willem van Nieulandt (1584-1635)
The Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli
Musée Benoît-de-Puydt, Bailleul
The site was exceptional: built in the foothills of the Apennines, about thirty miles east of Rome, Tivoli was a settlement on a mountainside overlooking the plain which stretches away to the sea . A river, the Aniene, cascaded through it in multiple waterfalls. A small acropolis stood on its precipice, containing the ruins of two temples, one square and one round. The latter especially became famous as the temple of the Sibyl or Vesta.

Introduction to the exhibition by José de Los Llanos, Director of the Cognac-Jay Museum (in French):

In the eighteenth century, Tivoli and its temple gradually became one of the most represented subjects in the history of painting, particularly in French painting. The architectural perfection of its monuments, its location in the heart of a sublime and terrifying landscape, the incomparable richness of its history and legends, made it a subject revered by artists and collectors. It was also at this time that the temple of Tivoli was surrounded by workshops built in the gardens.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)
View of the Temple of the Sybil at Tivoli
In fifty works: paintings, drawings and engravings, the exhibition aims to compare the views of the greatest artists of the time of this motif: a brief introduction explains the origin of its success in the early seventeenth century, around the works of Paul Bril and Gaspard Dughet. In the eighteenth century, Vanvitelli, Boucher, Vernet, Hubert Robert, Piranesi ... all take up the same subject. Then Valenciennes, Simon Denis and Granet, who were the French forerunners of modern landscape painting.

Capriccios, poetic variations, outdoor studies, composed or more spontaneous, the works presented pose in contradictory ways the question of the subject in landscape painting. Most intriguing is without doubt the question of why the same subject interested artists from traditional to modern over such a long period,.

The exhibition is accompanied by a colour catalogue published by Paris Musées. In addition to detailed entries on each work, there are essays by various authors on the site of Tivoli, its significance for art history, the stories of tourists, and the importance of artists particularly associated with Tivoli (Joseph Vernet, Hubert Robert).

Such as it can be seen today, the Villa Gregoriana, the name given (after Pope Gregory XVI) to the entire site from the 19th century onwards, is vastly different to what can be seen in these works. In 1826, when rockfalls from the escarpment were thought to be endangering the temple, the popes Leo XII then Gregory XVI diverted the river, the waterfalls no longer falling at the foot of the buildings but much further away. At the end of the century, the temple of Tiburnus, which had been converted into a church in the Middle Ages, was demolished.
Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), View of Tivoli
Private collection

Hubert Robert (1733-1808), A scene in the grounds of the Villa Farnese, Rome
Private collection
Extracts from The Salon of 1767 by Denis Diderot:

The Poetry of Ruins
Oh what beautiful and sublime ruins! How solid yet at the same time what lightness, sureness, ease of brushstroke! What effect! What grandeur! What noblesse! Someone should tell me to whom these ruins belong, so that I can steal them away; the only way one can acquire when one is poor. Alas!

They probably only provide for a small amount of happiness to the stupid rich who own them; and they would provide me with such happiness! Oh what an indolent owner and blind husband. What ills do I do to you when I covet charms that you either ignore or neglect! With what astonishment and surprise I see the broken vault, debris superimposed onto the vault. The persons who erected this monument, where are they? What has happened to them? Into which great dark silent pit will my eye wander? To what enormous distance does that part of the sky go that I can see through the opening! The astonishing graduations of light! One does not become weary from looking. Time stops for he who admires. How little I have
lived! What a short time my youth has lasted!
Hubert Robert, View of Ripetta
Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris
It is a great vaulted gallery given onto the interior by a colonnade which goes from right to left. Towards the middle of its length, the vault has been broken and reveals above its fracture the remains of a superimposed building. This long and vast factory still receives light from its opening at the back. To the left, outdoors, a fountain; above this fountain, an antique seated statue, underneath the pedestal of this statue there is a raised basin on an earth foundation; around this basin, in front of the gallery, in the space between the columns, there is a crowd of small figures, in small groups, small diverse scenes. Some are taking water, some are resting, some are strolling, and there is conversation. There is movement and noise. Furthermore, I will give you my opinion, Monsieur Robert; in a moment. You are a talented man. You will excel, in fact you excel in your genre. But study Vernet. Learn from him how to draw, to paint, to make your figures interesting; and since you are devoted to painting ruins, be aware that this genre has its poetry. You have absolutely ignored it. Seek it out. You have the know-how but the ideal escapes you. Do you not have the feeling that there are too many figures here? You should eliminate at least three-quarters. You should only keep those which will add to the solitude and silence. A man alone, who would have wandered into these shadows, his arms folded across his chest with his head bent forward, would have had a greater impact on me. The darkness alone, the majesty of the building, the grandeur of the factory, the vastness, the peacefulness, and the resounding silence would have caused me to tremble. I could never have stopped myself from dreaming underneath this vault, to sit between the columns, and to enter into your painting. However there are too many nuisances. I stop. I look. I admire and I continue. Monsieur Robert, you still do not understand why ruins provide so much pleasure, independently of the variety of accidents that they bring to light; I am going to tell you what immediately comes to mind.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), The Gardens of the Villa d'Este at Tivoli
Wallace Collection, London
The ideas that ruins awake in me are important. Everything is obliterated, all perishes, all passes. There is nothing but the world that remains. Time, is all that remains. How old is earth is! I move between two eternities. No matter where my eyes fall, the objects that surround me speak of an end and resign me to the one that awaits me. How can my transient existence be of comparison to this boulder that is collapsing, or this small valley that is being dug out, or this tottering forest, or of this weakened mass suspended above my head? I can see the marble tombstones disintegrate into dust; and I do not wish to die! I envy the weak tissue of flesh and bones rather than a general law for the pouring of a bronze! A torrent is dragging one nation over another to the depths of a common abyss; I pretend all alone to stop on the edge and cleave the waters that rush by my sides.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Great Waterfall at Tivoli
Musée du Louvre, Paris
The Qualities of a Landscape Artist
Mr. Juliart, you think that all it takes to be a landscape artist is to throw a few trees here and there, terrace the land, put up a mountain, show some streaming water which is blocked by some boulders, extend a field as far as the eye can see, light it up with the sun and the moon, draw a pasture and place some animals within the pasture? Do you not think that these trees should also be strongly felt; that there is a certain poetry in imagining them, according to the subject matter, lithesome and elegant, or broken and cracked, hanging, hideous; whereas here they are pressed together and dense, it is important that they be majestic and beautiful, as opposed to few and separate, air and light must circulate between their branches and trunks and that their layering should be warmly painted; that these waters, by imitating the limpidity of natural flowing, must show me as through a mirror, the almost image of the surrounding scene in which the light must tremble on their surface; and that they must foam and whiten when they encounter an obstacle; that one must know how to create this foam; provide the mountains an imposing view; to open them up by suspending the craggy summit above my head and dig caves, to strip them in one place and cover them with moss in another, prick its summit with bushes and practice poetic license, which through them reminds me of the ravages of time, the vagaries of things and the age of the world. The effect of your way of lighting must be striking, that the limited fields must, in their disintegration extend all the way to where the horizon melds with the sky and that the horizon plunges into a never ending distance?

Claude-Joseph Vernet, A Shepherd in the Alps
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours
Even a countryside which has its boundaries also have their magic, with solemn ruins, the factories should unravel a picturesque and lively imagination with interesting figures and real animals and that each of these things is nothing if the total is not enchanting, insofar as that it is made up of several locations here and there in nature if they do not offer a romanesque view as though it were the only one on earth. You haven’t figured out that a landscape is either flat or wonderful, where the intelligence of the light is not superior then the painting is bad; that a landscape with little colour and consequently of little effect is a very poor painting; that a landscape which says nothing to my soul, which is not in its finer points of overwhelming strength, a of surprising truthfulness is a very bad painting; that a landscape where the animals and the other figures are poorly done is a very bad painting, if the rest pushed to the highest degree of perfection cannot redeem these defects to which one must pay attention, to the light, the colour, the objects, the skies of the time of day, of the seasons,, that one must been expansive to paint skies, to fill the sky with clouds which are sometimes thick, sometimes light, to invade the atmosphere with fogs and so lose objects, to dye the totality with the sun’s light, to construct every manner of natural incidents, all possible field scenes, to bring about a storm, to inundate a field, to uproot trees, to display a cottage, the flock, the shepherd swept away by the waters; to imagine the scenes that evolve from this devastation, to show the losses, the dangers and the help in interesting and comforting ways.

See how Poussin is marvelous and touching, when next to a pastoral scene, he laughingly focuses my attention to a grave where I read: Et in Arcadia ego! Then see how serious he becomes when he shows me in another painting a woman coiled by a serpent who is pulling her down to the bottom of the water. If I were to ask you for a dawn, how would you go about it? As for myself, Monsieur Juliart, though it is not my business, I would show the gates of Thebes from a hillside view; in front of the gates there would be a statue of Memnon; surrounding the statue would be people from all walks of life attracted to the statue in order to satisfy their curiosity and feel its resonance with the first rays of the sun. Seated philosophers would be drawing astronomical figures in the sand; women and children would be laying and asleep, others would have their eyes fixed on the horizon at the sunrise; one might see in the distance those hastening their pace for fear of arriving too late.
Claude-Joseph Vernet, The Bridge and Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome
Musée du Louvre, Paris
This is how one might describe a moment in the day. If you should better enjoy simpler, common and less grandiose, send a woodsman into the forest; ambush the hunter, beat the bush for wild animals away from their lairs; beat them to the entrance to the forest that they are looking back to the fields from which the break of day is forcing them to return; lead the peasant with his horse load of provisions; cause the horse to stumble under its load, paint the peasant and his wife in an attempt to raise the animal. Brush into the scene anything that you wish. I haven’t spoken to you about, fruits, flowers or any rustic labours. I should never end. Presently, Monsieur Juliart, tell me if you are a landscapist.

Diderot: Essais sur la Peinture on Gallica

Denis Diderot On Art and Artists: An Anthology of Diderot's Aesthetic Thought

Springer 2010 ISBN: 940070061X
250 pages PDF (4,2 MB)

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