The Whitney Collection, Promised Gift of Wheelock Whitney III, and Purchase, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. McVeigh, by exchange, 2003
Not on view
This unfinished painting was made soon after the restoration of the Arch of Titus was completed, in 1824. The artist, who remains unidentified, differentiated between the white travertine used for the newly carved sections and the original Pentelic marble. Owing to its combination of sketchiness and naturalism, the work appears to—and might have—been painted out of doors. That would mark it as somewhat exceptional, given that it is painted on canvas (rather than paper) and is unusually large for a plein-air painting.
The Arch of Titus is one of many ancient monuments that was utterly transformed as part of systematic excavations and restorations of ancient monuments in Rome that commenced during the Napoleonic occupation of the city (1808–14). During the Middle Ages the arch became encumbered by walls and much of its original fabric deteriorated or disappeared. After lengthy deliberations about how to approach its restoration, final plans were drawn up by Raffaele Stern (d. 1820) and completed by Giuseppe Valadier (1762–1839), largely according to his predecessor’s plans, which called for the reconstruction of missing elements to return the arch to its original appearance. Work was completed early in 1824. In its restored state, the Arch of Titus caught the attention of numerous painters, most of whom took care to differentiate the white travertine used for the newly carved sections from the original Pentelic marble.
This composition is entirely blocked in but has not reached final completion and, as such, is known as an ébauche. Owing to its combination of sketchiness and naturalism, it may appear to have been painted out of doors, and it could have been. If it was, then that would make it somewhat exceptional, given that it is painted on canvas rather than paper and is unusually large for a plein-air painting. The artist remains unidentified, however. Innumerable French painters were active in Rome during the decade or so beginning in 1824, and possible candidates include a range of figures whose output is not well documented, for example, Amedée Bourgeois, André Giroux, Léon Fleury, Édouard Bertin, Jules Coignet, and Prosper Barbot.
Examination of this painting reveals a few telling details that may eventually be recognized as signature features of a specific artist. There is drawing on top of the paint layer in the upper left corner of the arch and underdrawing is visible here and there through the paint layer. Without discounting the possibility that the painting was executed directly on the motif, the underdrawing was clearly plotted beforehand with great precision. Regularly spaced, numbered notches along the left edge of the canvas suggest that the drawing was based on studies that were subsequently adopted for use in this composition. The artist also took pains to situate this "new" ancient monument into its setting by making small adjustments to ensure that the campanile on the Capitoline Hill is centered beneath the arch—bisected off-center by a plumbline visible through the paint layer—and that the churches along the Via Sacra, which passes through the arch, are clearly visible at right.
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
[Jacques Fischer-Chantal Kiener, Paris, until 1989; sold on June 12 to Whitney]; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1989)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850," January 22–April 21, 2013, unnumbered cat. (fig. 47).
Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), pp. 39, 46, fig. 47 (color).