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Distant View of Rome from Tivoli

cat 144.jpg

CAT 144. S. W. Reynolds after Gasper Poussin. Distant View of Rome from Tivoli. From a Picture in the possession of Frederick Perkins, Esq. Published in Gems of Art, Plate 12. London: Cooke and Bohn, 1848. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

The engraving Melville acquired of Distant View of Rome from Tivoli is a classic expression of those “ingredients of nature” that Gaspar “distilled into a single landscape formula” highly admired in England: “foreground figures, placed between balancing tree masses, gesture towards a middle distance of lake and buildings, framed by hills, and a path leads the way into the landscape” (French 11). This engraving also exemplifies the “accessibility” that John Eagles, writing in 1856, found characteristic of Gaspard’s landscapes. “There is not a height or depth unapproachable”; all is “accessible” by “path, or road, or building or figure.” French suggests that Dughet in this sense presents “the portrayal of a Golden Age . . . superior even to Claude’s in that it is an age of the present, and can therefore be shared” (French 28-29). This same quality is characteristic of Melville’s expansive folio engraving of Nicolas Poussin’s Landscape with a Man washing his Feet at a Fountain (CAT 143). That painting, more closely than most of his works, fits the above formula that French offers above for Dughet. Its sinuous path, a defining feature of Dughet’s own works, may well reflect the influence of the younger painter at a period in which the two “Poussins” are thought to have influenced each other.

In the foreground of Reynolds’s soft, atmospheric mezzotint engraving, a shepherd with his goats pauses to speak to a hunter with his dog before a glorious open vista framed by trees on either side. The landscape opens deep and wide beyond them, its expanse marked by occasional buildings catching the light of the sun as it plays across the surface of the land all the way the distant horizon marked by the distinctive shape of the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome. In subject matter, the shepherd and his goats in the foreground of this engraving recall those in the foreground of Melville’s copy of Claude’s etching Le Troupeau en marche par un temps D’Orage (CAT 123). In technique and tone, it resembles Melville’s copy of the mezzotint engraving after Titian’s Landscape, with Herdsman, that Linnell published in London in 1840 (CAT 109).

Melville’s copy of Reynolds’s mezzotint engraving of Dughet’s Distant View of Rome from Tivoli was published in the Gems of Art in London in 1848, one year before Melville visited the city (plate 12). Melville’s copy of Reynolds’s mezzotint after Richard Wilson’s Evening (CAT number to be assigned) appeared in the same publication (plate 15). Melville also owned Reynolds’s mezzotint engraving of Wilson’s Villa of Mæcenas at Tivoli, depicting Dughet’s subject from another view (CAT number to be assigned). Richard Wilson was a British artist who painted in Italy a century after Dughet had. S. W. Reynolds (1773-1835) was one of many 19th-century English printmakers who extended the Classical Italian mezzotint tradition established by Richard Earlom in his three-volume edition of Claude’s Liber Veritatis. Arthur Hayden in his Chats on Old Prints in 1906 reproduced Reynolds’s mezzotint of Dughet’s Distant View of Rome from Tivoli as a “fine” extension of that tradition. Below it on the same page he reproduced Reynolds’s mezzotint engraving after Richard Wilson’s Morning, companion to the Evening mezzotint, and another print that Melville collected (CAT number to be determined; Hayden, 247-49).

Melville never saw the original painting from which his Distant View of Rome from Tivoli was engraved. That painting had remained in a sequence of private collections in England until the Louvre acquired it in 1956. In 1986, Marie-Nicole Boisclair dated the original painting c. 1659, identified its setting as the environs of the villa of Mæcenas at Tivoli, and noted that Claude Lorrain had painted his own version of the same view in 1645 (cat. 196, plate IV, fig. 238). Stylistically, the painting at the Louvre, now known as Paysage près de Tivoli, is a very close companion to Dughet’s Landscape with Abraham and Isaac approaching the Place of Sacrifice, a painting that young Melville would have seen during his three visits to London’s National Gallery in 1849 (fig. 1):

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Fig 1. Gaspard Dughet. Landscape with Abraham and Isaac, oil on canvas, c. 1665. Entered the National Gallery from the Angerstein Collection in 1824.

Dughet’s Landscape with Abraham and Isaac was one of the first paintings to be purchased from the Angerstein Collection during the formation of London’s National Gallery in 1824. Hazlitt’s review of “Mr. Angerstein’s Gallery” from the 1843 edition of his Criticisms on Art that Melville acquired in 1870 declared that the landscapes by Gaspard in that collection "give to earth its solidity, and to the air its proper attributes. There are, perhaps, no landscapes that excel in this fresh, healthy look of nature” (Hazlitt, Criticisms, 1843, p. 16). Like Melville’s print after Dughet’s Distant View of Rome from Tivoli, this painting extends out from a highly accessible foreground, framed by trees on either side, over an expansive landscape extending all the way to a distant sea beneath a bright luminous sky. Each of these works supports Boisclair’s contention that Dughet’s “most characteristic works depict the beauty of the scenery around Rome, particularly near Tivoli, and suggest the shifting patterns of light and shade across a rugged terrain. Dughet drew from nature, yet his landscapes are carefully structured, and figures in antique dress suggest the ancient beauty of a landscape celebrated by Virgil” (Grove Online 2003).

The figures in the foreground of Distant View of Rome from Tivoli do suggest the generalized virtues of a Virgilian Golden Age much like those in the foreground of Melville’s engravings after Claude’s Pastoral Landscape (CAT 133) or Flight into Egypt (CAT 134). The Landscape with Abraham and Isaac at the National Gallery is much more explicit in its narrative detail. Not only are the father and son ascending the steep hill named. The son is carrying on his back the wood for the fire on which the father intends to sacrifice him, the father holding behind his back the torch with which he intends to light the blaze that will placate his god. Melville’s lifelong fascination with the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac is shown in the manuscript for the Billy Budd novella he left unpunished at his death, where the narrator imagines that Captain Vere, who was “old enough to be Billy’s father . . . may in the end have caught Billy to his heart even as Abraham may have caught young Isaac on the brink of offering him up in obedience to the exacting behest” (NN BBO 58).

Melville’s pictorial interest in the Abraham and Isaac story is seen in two prints we have already cataloged in Chapter 1. The outline engraving of The Sacrifice of Abraham by Robert Sands after Hans Holbein the Younger was published in the Historic Gallery of Portraits and Paintings in 1809 (CAT 23). The inset scene surrounding the capital letter T introducing the text of Tableau 20 (illustrating Genesis 22:6) was published in the Dutch Taferelen in 1728 (CAT 30). Young Isaac is carrying the wood for the fire on his back in all three images, but the deep irony of the core story is expressed differently in each one. In the Dughet painting, which Melville would have seen at the National Gallery in 1849, the irony inheres in the viewer’s easy proximity to the dark, sloping hill in the foreground; in the warmth and brightness implicit in the rise of the sun over the far distant sea; and in the seeming obliviousness of the young man and woman facing out on the distant vista just over the crest of the hill.

Some art historians have depicted Gaspard Dughet as an unsophisticated painter of the Italian landscape entirely lacking in the historical and theoretical finesse for which Nicholas Poussin is so often celebrated. Sarah Beth Cantor in 2013 effectively related Dughet’s landscapes to the intellectual ferment of “seventeenth-century literary and antiquarian culture.” She showed the degree to which his landscapes drew upon the intellectual as well as pictorial precedent of Raphael, Titian, and Veronese as these were extended in the seventeenth century by Annibale Carracci and Domenichino. Her chapter on “The Carracci Revival of Italian Landscape Painting” shows how Annibale, in particular, created a “radical new interpretation of nature” that Domenichino’s landscapes opened further for Claude, Poussin, and Dughet, each in his own way. Annibale brought more naturalistic coloring and more common figures into Italian landscape and often placed the viewer “on the same plane as the figures,” allowing the viewer “to nearly step into the landscape and participate in the activities presented” there. At the same time, he was absorbing an idealized view of the natural world from Raphael, resulting in the “combination of naturalism and idealization” he was able to pass on to Domenichino and through him to Claude, Poussin, and Dughet (25-28). In all these ways, the mezzotint Melville acquired of Dughet’s Distant View of Rome from Tivoli was a worthy companion to the engravings he acquired of seventeenth-century Italian landscapes by Claude and Poussin as well as eighteenth-century Italian landscapes by Richard Wilson.

Gaspard Dughet [Poussin]
(CAT 144) Distant View of Rome from Tivoli