A recent acquisition helped to bring to light the solution to a mystery regarding a painting at the Library. In September 2022, the Library purchased an 1826 lithograph by Mary Anne Theresa Whitby bearing a helpful caption identifying the scene as a view of the “Sepulchro di Plautio,” or the tomb of the Plautius family, located in the area near Tivoli in Italy.
The print, produced after a drawing by Whitby and, according to dealer Samuel Gedge printed on her private lithograph press in Newlands in Hampshire, featured two figures on a riverbank in the foreground, a bridge with three rounded arches in the middle right of the scene leading to a large, round crenellated tower next to a building with peaked roof on the left.
Something looked familiar about the scene. Where had I seen that tower and bridge before? Then it came to me.
Hanging on the wall in the reception area is “An Italianate River Landscape,” attributed to British artist Thomas Patch, (1725-1782). The bridge, the round tower, the building with peaked roof, hills in the distance were all there.
The oil painting has hung at the Library since Library founder Wilmarth Lewis purchased it in 1953 from Spink & Son. It appears on the firm’s invoice as “Landscape with tower and bridge, thought to be a scene in the Roman Campagna.” It was called “Italian Riverscape” on the catalog card at the Library. The title “An Italianate River Landscape” was assigned by specialists from Christie’s auction house during a 2005 appraisal. No identification of a specific location could be found in the files in which provenance and scholarly communications have been compiled. Presumably it was a capriccio that combined actual landscape or architectural components with elements of imagination.
The landscape was described by Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Paintings Cynthia Roman for the online catalog record. “This view of a river with a tower and bridge is a non-specific Italianate landscape, likely inspired by the Roman Campagna. The rural scene is populated with figures both at work and leisure. Patch painted this type of scene for English grand tourists.”
However, the purchase of the lithograph by Mary Anne Theresa Whitby pointed to a possible alternative. The Sepulchro di Plautio, also known as The Tomb or Mausoleum of Plautii, the adjacent bridge called the Ponte Lucano, both built in the first century BCE, as well as the nearby ruins of a fifteenth or sixteenth-century inn can still be seen in Italy. As the World Monuments Fund, which placed the bridge on its Watch List in 2010, explains, “For over two millennia, Ponte Lucano has survived and adapted to the growing urban landscape while maintaining its historic identity and architectural integrity. The bridge is part of an archaeological landscape that includes remains of the mausoleum of Plautii (1st century B.C.)…”
Further corroboration was found in the Library’s collection in a heavily annotated, extra-illustrated, and interleaved copy of F.J.B. Watson’s Thomas Patch (1725-1782) Notes on his Life Together with a Catalogue of his Known Works, first published in The Volume of the Walpole Society (28, pp. 15-51).*
One of Patch’s earliest and most faithful patrons was Lord Charlemont. . . . In particular he ordered a set of views of Tivoli which took some time to execute, for Cardinal Albani told Sir Horace Mann that Patch had been working there for his patron during the three summer months of 1750 and again in 1751. None of these views of Tivoli has so far been traced, but the picture of ‘the Falls of Terni’ (Catalog, No. 35), was almost certainly executed for the same patron.
He also notes “Cat. Nos. 35a and 35b only came to light while this paper was in the press” (Watson, p. 17). Among the many added black and white photographs of paintings by Patch in the extra-illustrated volume at the Lewis Walpole Library are photos of the Charlemont two views, numbered in pencil 35a and 35b. Just opposite them is a page with three further views, numbered 35f (i), (ii), (iii), and apparently only known to Watson after the article was published.
The 35f corresponds to penciled notes on the blank page facing Catalog Number 35 on page 40. Those notes say “Three views in the Roman Campagna (1) the Ponte Lucano, (2) the Tomb of Cecelia Metalla, and (3) the Tombs of the Horatii & Curatii [sic], all 20 1/2 x 41 ins, sold Robinson & Foster 19.vi.52 lot 109 as Zucharella [very damaged]. These subsequently turned up miraculously re[suscitated?] at Spinks (1953) see photos. Probably executed at Florence; the backgrounds resemble the hills towards Fiesole, (3) is now in the possession of W.S. Lewis, Farmington.”
There is confusion in the extra-illustrated volume’s handwritten notes. The photo at the top of the page most likely shows the Tomb of the Plautii, not the Ponte Lucano (there is no bridge visible in that scene), or the Tomb of Cecelia Metalla, which is not next to a river. The middle photograph shows the Tombs of the Horatii & Curiatii, mistakenly numbered (iii) in the notes, not the Tomb of Cecelia Metalla, which has a single tower. And finally, photo iii, shows the Ponte Lucano, the painting now on view in the reception area of the Lewis Walpole Library in Farmington.
The acquisition of a small nineteenth century amateur lithograph prompted a reassessment of the Patch painting. No longer an imagined “Landscape with tower and bridge, thought to be a scene in the Roman Campagna,” “Italian Riverscape,” or “An Italianate River Landscape,” the actual location depicted in the landscape painting by Patch, which has remained unidentified from the time it was acquired nearly seventy years ago, can be securely identified as “A View of the Ponte Lucano and mausoleum of Plautii.” Its identity had indeed been known by the annotator of the Watson volume, but that knowledge had not found its way into an object file, onto a Library catalog card, or into the online catalog record.
As these things go, now that we know what the view is, we fully expect to find scenes with the bridge, mausoleum, and inn cropping up in the Library’s and other collections.
For example, it turns out that the Yale Center for British Art has a seventeenth-century drawing by Thomas Manbey and a nineteenth-century photograph, both of which show the Ponte Lucano and mausoleum of the Plautii near Tivoli.
And the Yale University Art Gallery has a Piranesi etching showing the mausoleum from a different angle.
Here is a view that appears in an Album of landscape drawings by Mason, Gilpin, and Holland held at the Lewis Walpole Library. Is it wishful thinking, or do those tower, bridge, and small building with the peaked roof look familiar? Or is it only a scene evocative of the Roman campagna, just an imagined Italianate river landscape?
–Susan Odell Walker, Head of Public Services, the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University
*The volume is extensively extra-illustrated with photographs, research notes, articles, correspondence. It is not clear when the extra-illustration was carried out or by whom the primary annotations were made, although perhaps it is not too far-fetched to suggest they were added by F.J.B. Watson himself. A provenance note indicates Watson gave Lewis the volume in April 1978.
Album of Landscape Drawings by Mason, Gilpin, and Holland not after 1797. England. Folio 75 G42 797
“Ponte Lucano.” World Monuments Fund, accessed Oct 21, 2022, https://www.wmf.org/project/ponte-lucano.
Samuel Gedge Ltd. “Grand Tour in Lithograph by Amateur Printmaker.” Prints, Drawings &c., Autumn 2022, p. 21. accessed Oct 21, 2022, https://www.samuelgedge.com/PRINTS%20&%20DRAWINGS%202022.pdf.
Watson, F. “Thomas Patch (1725-1782) Notes on His Life, Together with a Catalogue of His Known Works.” Reprint from The Volume of the Walpole Society 28 (Jan 1,): 15-50. Quarto 75 P27 S940 Copy 1