Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Nymphaeum of the Villa di Papa Giulio, Rome

Hubert Robert (French, Paris 1733–1808 Paris)
ca. 1761
Red chalk, with framing lines in pen and brown ink
15 9/16 x 20 3/4 in. (39.8 x 53.0 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Alexandrine Sinsheimer, 1958
Accession Number:
Not on view
Over the course of his eleven year stay in Rome, from 1754 to 1765, Hubert Robert made several drawings of the Villa Giulia built in 1551-1553, following the designs of Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola (1507-1573). To enhance the beauty of the place, Pope Julius III commissioned the sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati (1511-1592) to design the Nymphaeum and garden structures, which are renowned today as examples of Mannerist architecture in Rome. The first known view of the villa by Robert is a red chalk drawing dated 1758: the Colonnaded courtyard of the villa Giulia (Boston, the Horvitz collection, D-F-745. See exh. cat., Hubert Robert, Washington, 2016, p.15, fig.4). The following year, Hubert Robert made five drawings representing the hay barn of the former villa (Musée des beaux-arts de Valence, D. 93 ; Saint-Petersburg, Hermitage Museum, 7662 ; Moscow, Pushkin Museum, 1071 ; Paris, Musée des Arts décoratifs, PE 57 ; private collection, see exh. cat. Washington, 2016, no. 9). In 1762, the young student depicted the villa's courtyard with a spectacular view of the semi-circular colonnade in a red chalk drawing dated 1762 (Valence, Musée des beaux-arts, inv. D. 70) and a watercolor dated 1763 (Vienna, Albertina, 12430. See Catherine Boulot in exh. cat. JH Fragonard e H Robert a Roma, Rome, 1990-1991, n° 121) as well as a riccordo sketch (New York, the Pierpont Morgan Library & Museum, 1958.5 folio 12 recto. See Sarah Catala in exh. cat. Hubert Robert, Paris, 2016, no. 20, p. 161).
Our drawing is the only known view of the Nymphaeum. Ammanati's creation is a complex combination of a hemispherical façade and a three-leveled structure with loggias and caryatids on the ground floor. Hubert Robert was not attracted to the architecture of the two façades but, rather, to the faded beauty of the abandoned villa, transformed by the invasion of unkempt foliage and bales of hay ignobly stored at the base of the caryatids. With architecture and figures alike treated in a very broad and free technique, Robert evokes, more than he represents, the daily life of workers and visitors to the site.
The date of this drawing was never thoroughly investigated by art historians, who considered it connected to the 1759 group of drawings depicting the villa’s hay barn. However, the Met’s sheet displays all the features of drawings made by Robert in 1761. The use of red chalk contributes to the rapid handling of this drawing, probably made in about twenty minutes. Sitting, it appears, on the ground, he first loosely sketched in the architectural elements, before adding areas of tone with broad hatchings. Despite the speed with which he worked, he was able to create contrasts between the shadows and the light coming from the upper right by leaving areas of paper in reserve (untouched) and by darkening portions of the foreground. Here, the application of red chalk plays with the texture of the paper to create mid-tone shadows around the caryatids and the reflections on the water. The background features a cadenced pattern of dark and light, with shadowy open doorways alternating with blind apses. The artist then took a sharpened piece of chalk to liven up his composition by adding some sketched figures, reinforcing the contours of the statues, and picking out some stones and plants in the foreground. In contrast to his drawings of 1759, which typically feature homogeneous outlines and a simplified handling of light and shadow, the execution of this sheet is less precise, but more bold and confident, similar to his work of 1761, an example of which would be the counterproof dated 1761, which depicts the Villa Farnese in Rome (Besançon, bibliothèque municipale, vol. 451, no. 35. Sarah Catala, Les Hubert Robert de Besançon, 2013, no. 35). This manner is still evident in the foreground of the Study of plants, drawn in early 1762 (Valence, Musée des beaux-arts, D. 53. See Sarah Catala, exh. cat. Paris, 2016, no. 10). Like many of his red chalk drawings made in Italy, the Met’s sanguine was not turned into a painting, but was used as a rehearsal, an expression of technical dexterity and the ability to create striking views. Hubert Robert would have presumably kept it after his return to France, both as a souvenir, or memory, of Rome and to add to his repertoire of forms and motifs.
Sarah Catala (October, 2016)
Alexandrine Sinsheimer; Donor: Alexandrine Sinsheimer
Dayton Art Institute. "French Artists in Italy, 1600-1900," October 15, 1971–November 28, 1971.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," January 8, 2007–March 25, 2007.

Bean and Turcic 1986.263
Jane van Nuis Cahill French Artists in Italy, 1600-1900. Exh. cat. The Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, OH. Dayton, Ohio, 1971, cat. no. 25, p. 17, ill.

Jean de Cayeux Les Hubert Robert de la Collection Veyrene au Musée de Valence. Ex. cat. Valence, 1985, cat. no. under no. 31, 156, ill.

Jacob Bean, Lawrence Turčić 15th-18th Century French Drawings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1986, cat. no. 263, p. 234, ill.

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