Tivoli. Variations on a landscape in the 18th century

Paris, Musée Cognac-Jay, from 18 November 2010 to 20 February 2011

1. Attributed to Willem Adriaensz. II van Nieulandt (1584-1635)
The Temple of the Sibyl in Tivoli
Oil on panel - 32.5 x 42.2 cm
Bailleul, Musée Benoît-de-Puydt
Photo : Musée Benoît-de-Puydt

The Musée Cognac-Jay is currently offering a very pleasant exhibition, accompanied by a charming catalogue. The subject is an invitation to travel as the show attempts to illustrate how the small temple of the Sibyl in Tivoli [1] influenced painters from 1720 to about 1820.

The site inspired artists starting in the 16th century. One of the first representations is by Jan Brueghel, the Elder, in a drawing not displayed here belonging to the Fondation Custodia. The first room presents works from the 17th century, including a painting attributed to Willem Andriazensz. II van Nieulandt (ill. 1) owned by the little-known Musée Benoît-de-Puydt in Bailleul, and a Gaspard Dughet from the Ingres collection in Montauban, alas in rather poor condition. These first examples already reveal how this picturesque motif often led to very imaginative representations. Van Nieulandt places the temple by the sea, while Dughet depicts it after a fire, in geographical surroundings which are far from exact.

2. Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)
Altra Veduta del tempio della Sibilla in Tivoli
Etching and burin on paper - 62 x 44 cm
Photo : All rights reserved

3. Joseph Vernet (1714-1789)
View of Tivoli
Oil on canvas - 35.6 x 46.4 cm
Private collection
Photo : Didier Rykner

This tendency to locate the temple amidst an imaginary landscape continued through the 18th century. Jean-François Huë, for example, followed suit in 1789 (Tours, Musée des Beaux-Arts). Even those artists who privileged a more realistic representation would nonetheless slip in slight alterations, for instance to underscore the impression of monumentality, like Piranese (ill. 2) who reduces the size of his figures to make the arches of the substructure seem larger – and more disturbing (these were covered over a few years later in 1777-1779).
The exhibition reminds us that painting in “plein air” was not born in the 19th century as generally accepted, nor even in the late 18th century with Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes. As early as the 17th century, several landscape painters including Claude Lorrain would execute certain studies outdoors, from life. We see here the only known study of this type by Joseph Vernet (ill. 3). With an attribution by Philip Conisbee, accepted by Emilie Beck Saiello who is preparing the catalogue for the artist, it reveals a new aspect of this artist’s work.

In the early 19th century, the site continued to be a vivid source of inspiration for painters, many of whom evoked unusual view points, such as Simon Denis (private collection) who places the viewer close to the Temple of the Sibyl thus showing only a small part of it or Léon Cogniet (ill. 4) whose works were only recently recognized as illustrations of the temple by Olivier Michel.
The Villa Gregoriana [2] today is a bit different from the one seen in all of these works. In 1826, falling rocks from the cliff seemed to threaten the temple and Popes Leo XII then Gregory XVI diverted the river so that the waterfall no longer lands at the foot of the building but much farther away. At the end of the century, the Temple of Tiburnus which had been transformed into a church in the Middle Ages, was cleared [3].

4. Léon Cogniet (1794-1880)
Ruins of a Temple near a Mountain (Tivoli)
Oil on marougled paper on panel - 32.2 x 24 cm
Orléans, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : François Lauginie /Musée d’Orléans

5. Attributed to Antonio Chichi (1743-1816)
The Temple of the Vesta or the Sibyl in Tivoli
Cork, wood, terracotta and paper - 74 x 54 x 51 cm
Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Musée des Antiquités Nationales,
deposit from the ENSBA
Photo : J. L. Losi

We conclude by pointing out a cork and terracotta maquette for a round temple (ill. 5) which was restored for the occasion and is part of the collection of seventy-four reduced models of antiquity monuments produced in the late 18th century assembled by Louis-François Cassas [4]. This extraordinary ensemble is unfortunately kept almost entirely in storage, often in poor conditions, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and at the Musée des Antiquités Nationales. Let us hope that it will once again be restored and exhibited as should be one day.

Curator : José de Los Llanos

Collective work , Tivoli, variations sur un paysage au XVIIIe siècle, Musée Cognac-Jay Paris-Musées, 2010, 173 p., 30€, ISBN : 9782759601462

Visitor information : Musée Cognac-Jay, 8 rue Elzévir, 75003 Paris. Phone : +33 (0)1 40 27 07 21. Open every day except Monday from 10 am to 6 pm. Full price ticket : 5€, reduced rates : 3.5€ and 2.5 €.
Musée Cognac-Jay website

Didier Rykner, vendredi 3 décembre 2010


[1] The site is in fact made up of two temples, the round Temple of the Sibyl, the more familiar one, and, next to it, that of Tiburnus which is rectangular and in much worse shape.

[2] The site was named after Pope Gregory XVI in the 19th century.

[3] The Temple of the Sibyl was also occupied by a church during the Middle Ages, but it was quickly secularized again.

[4] A maquette was shown in Nancy in 2005 for the exhibition De l’Esprit des Villes (see article in French) and another one, in 2009, at the Musée d’Orsay in the exhibition Voir l’Italie et mourir.

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