Robert Clements, later 1st Earl of Leitrim (1732-1804)
Oil on canvas
Purchased through a gift from Barbara Dau Southwell, Class of 1978, in honor of Robert Dance, Class of 1977, a gift of William R. Acquavella, and the Florence and Lansing Porter Moore 1937 Fund; P.2002.6
By the time William Legge, the Second Earl of Dartmouth (1731-1801), and Robert Clements, later First Earl of Leitrim (1732-1804), traveled to Rome in the early 1750s, the so-called Grand Tour to Italy was already considered an essential ingredient in the proper education of many upper-class Europeans, especially young English, Irish, and Scottish noblemen. Guided by early published accounts and traveling according to standard itineraries that sometimes lasted for years, travelers from the British Isles sought to reconstruct Roman antiquity by visiting the sites described in ancient literature and using surviving sculptures to elucidate illustrious figures and notable events in classical history. It was also at this time that increasing numbers of foreign visitors to Rome commissioned portraits as mementos of their journey.
By the early 1750s, Pompeo Batoni had secured the majority of the portrait trade in Rome and had popularized the depiction of informally posed sitters, either in open-air settings highlighting Italian landscapes or in enclosed interiors with renowned antiquities. The portrait of Lord Dartmouth, grandson of the First Earl, whom he succeeded in 1750 (and later a prominent benefactor of the College), and the portrayal of Robert Clements, the son of the Irish Deputy Vice-Treasurer and Teller of the Exchequer, exemplify the features employed by Batoni. These elements were later imitated by other European artists and made him the most celebrated painter in Rome during his lifetime.
When Lord Dartmouth and Robert Clements arrived in Rome in 1752 and 1753, respectively, Batoni was already acclaimed as the leading portraitist in Rome and would soon be recognized as one of the most important throughout Europe. Over the course of the next three decades, he received commissions from some of the greatest art patrons on the continent. Batoni’s sitters generally admired the apparent elegance and refinement of his style, as well as his ability to depict both social status and self-esteem. Connoisseurs appreciated his lively use of color, the meticulousness of his draftsmanship, and his skillful technique. The portraits of the 1750s were especially appealing due to their extraordinary quality, derived from the artist’s determination to establish and sustain his preeminence. In the case of the paintings of Lord Dartmouth and Robert Clements, they also appear to represent accurately the personal interests of the sitters. In addition to the introduction of motifs that Batoni later employed repeatedly, such as the landscape background and the inclusion of ancient sculpture, these two works seem to be carefully composed to satisfy the established tastes and preconceived notions that these two men brought to Rome.
While the pose of Robert Clements in Batoni's oil painting of 1753 is nearly identical to that shown in Lord Dartmouth’s portrait, the setting is entirely different. Clements was portrayed indoors in front of a classically designed pilaster and next to a sculpted bust. Apparently this was the painter’s first use of an antique sculpture to suggest the sitter’s appreciation of ancient art. The bust of Homer was carefully arranged on a pedestal and positioned almost as though the great poet were directing his gaze toward his admirer. The sculpture, one of a large number of replicas of the most celebrated of the invented portraits of antiquity, corresponded in all essential details with the one in the Farnese collection in Rome. For many readers of this era, Homer perfectly mirrored an ideal, heroic world that resonated with the one described by early-eighteenth-century British travelers writing about their own journeys to Italy. The inclusion of the bust of Homer here in fact suggests more than the sitter’s immediate aesthetic response to the age and artistic qualities of the sculpture. For a number of contemporary observers, the ancient Greek author embodied the classical—and primarily male—virtues that visitors to Rome sought to revive and imitate.
Although there is no specific documentation indicating that Batoni’s sitters instructed him about how they would like to be portrayed, undoubtedly the painter would have discussed in detail the proposed composition and other issues associated with a client’s attitude, attire, and accessories. With regard to the latter, selections were most likely based on the preferences of the sitter, but they also often reflected the values and tastes of the leading figures promoting the aims of the Grand Tour. In addition, even though an earlier generation of Italian artists had included landscapes and antiquities in their portrayals of foreign visitors to Rome, Batoni popularized this particular type of portraiture, eventually creating an iconic image of the British traveler.
Last Updated: 11/12/09