View of the Gardens at the Villa Mattei


Hubert Robert ( French, 1733 - 1808 )

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General Description

The leading landscape artist in France during the final decades of the 18th century, Hubert Robert was a painter whose activity straddled the great divide represented by the French Revolution. Like a few others of such a long lifespan, he also managed in some ways to bridge the gap between neoclassicism and romanticism. A prolific draftsman and painter, his images of the ruined classical monuments of ancient Rome earned him the moniker “Robert des Ruines.” When he returned to Paris, he brought with him this fascination with the derelict and obsolete structures of the past, observing (and sometimes imagining) the demolition of Paris’s historic buildings.

The large and masterful red chalk drawing View and Gardens at the Villa Mattei dates to the period when Robert was traveling in Italy with his fellow artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard and their patron, the wealthy connoisseur the Abbé Saint-Non. It represents the Villa Mattei, today known as the Villa Celimontana, built in the Roman countryside during the Renaissance era. Robert made at least three drawings of the Villa Mattei, of which this example is the only one known to survive. The others are recorded only by a counterproof (Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie, Besançon) and by a print commissioned by Saint-Non after a lost drawing. The present drawing is a fully developed studio drawing, no doubt based on sketches that Robert made at the site but intended as a finished, self-sufficient work of art rather than a study or preparatory sketch. Such drawings were much prized by 18th-century collectors.

Adapted from

Heather MacDonald and William B. Jordan, in Mind's Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne, eds. Olivier Meslay and William B. Jordan (Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 2014) 20.

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