Edward Lear (British, 1812–1888), The Tomb of Cecilia Metella on the Via Appia, Rome
Edward Lear (British, 1812–1888)
The Tomb of Cecilia Metella on the Via Appia, Rome
Signed 1842/Ed Lear
Oil on canvas
Canvas size: 9 x 17 1/2"
Frame size: 18 2/5 x 26 1/5"
Provenance: Painted for Captain and Miss Phipps Hornby of Shooters Hill, Kent; Miss Edith Jones, an thence by descent
During the nineteenth century, artists and tourists alike flocked to Italy to observe the country’s countless ruins and bask in its mythical golden sunlight. Edward Lear (1812-1888), author of books of nonsense, purveyor of limericks, and prolific creator of exquisite landscape art, captures both Italian wonders within these two marvelous paintings of the Roman environs. The first, The Tomb of Cecilia Metella on the Via Appia, Rome (1842), depicts the final resting place of the Roman Consul Creticus’ daughter and member of the first Roman Triumvirate Crassus’s son’s wife. The tomb, whose occupant Cecilia Metella died in 50 B.C., is located on the Via Appia, the most important ancient Roman road connecting the Italian capital to Brindisi, Apulia in southeast Italy. The second work, The Tor di Schiavi on the Via Labicana, Rome (1842) illustrates the remains of an extensive villa built during the time of Diocleation and is situated on another chief Roman thoroughfare.
In both of these paintings Lear masterfully exploits the scenic possibilities of Italy’s decaying monuments, which Thomas Cole (1801-1848) once famously described as “beautiful in [their] destruction.” Indeed, Lear has created two highly poetical visual interpretations of these two sites by particularly emphasizing each of the ruins’ crumbling facades. In addition, Lear also inserted a number of modern-day peasants into these two painterly compositions. Thus, each of the monuments is placed into a historical continuum, and serves as a link between the ancient past and the spirited present.
Born in the north London suburb of Holloway on May 12, 1812, Lear was the twentieth of twenty-one children born to Jeremiah and Ann Lear. His childhood was one of outward prosperity, but in 1825, his father, a stockbrocker, was ruined by a financial crisis brought on by unfortunate speculation. At the age of fifteen the young and somewhat sickly Edward had to start earning his own living. Initially, he tinted drawings of birds for shops and printsellers. This training suited him well and by the age of eighteen he was taking on pupils of his own.
In 1830, Lear received permission to work as a draughtsman at the Zoological Society. His first task was to make a record of the different members of the parrot family. He was encouraged in this task by N.A. Vigors, John Gould and Lord Stanley. Illustrations of the family Psittacidae appeared in parts between 1830 and 1832, when Lear ultimately abandoned it. However, it represented the first illustrated work of ornithology to be issued on such a scale in England, and was compared favorably to John James Audubon’s Birds of America. The day after the first part of Illustrations of the family Psittacidae was published Lear was elected an associate of the Linnean Society. He went on to contribute plates to Gould’s Birds of Europe and Monograph of the Toucans.
After 1837, for reasons of health, Lear lived mainly in Italy and Corfu. When he felt himself no longer able to cope with the detailed work of bird illustration, he turned his talents to landscape and producing a large quantity of drawings and watercolors. He also published several books of travel and topography covering Greece, Albania, and, most notably, Italy.
An esteemed member of an international community of artists, Lear made only two trips back to England between 1837 and 1847. Lear died in Sam Remo, Italy on January 29, 1888.
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