Face to Face: Pompeo Batoni's Portraits of Lord Dartmouth and Robert Clements

Posted on September 01, 2003 by Kristin Swan

Hood Quarterly, autumn 2003
T. Barton Thurber, Curator of European Art

By the time William Legge, 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 upperclass Europeans, especially young English, Irish, and Scottish noblemen. Guided by early published accounts and traveling according to standard itineraries, sometimes lasting 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 journeys.

By the early 1750s, Pompeo Batoni (1708– 1787) had secured the majority of the Roman portrait trade and had popularized the depiction of informally posed sitters, either in open-air settings (highlighting the Italian landscape) or in enclosed interiors with renowned antiquities. The portrait of Lord Dartmouth, a prominent early supporter of the College, and the portrayal of Robert Clements, recently acquired by the Hood Museum of Art, exemplify the features employed by Batoni that were later imitated by other European artists and that made him the most celebrated painter in Rome during his lifetime. However, the pictures also reflect the patrons' preconceived ideas about the aims of the Grand Tour. As this trip to Italy became more institutionalized, it also became more limited in scope (noted by Haskell 1996, 10). As a result, the portraits represented the cultural ideals of the sitters as much as they illustrated the artistic achievements of the painter.

Following intense military conflicts across the European continent during the late 1730s and throughout the 1740s that severely limited the number of English travelers to Italy, the next decade witnessed a resurgence in the flow of foreign visitors to Rome. Since the late seventeenth century, there had been a keen interest on the part of Britain's most influential politicians and cultural figures to emulate the values of classical antiquity. They increasingly believed that viewing the sites and remains of ancient civilizations would help them to understand past accomplishments better.

In the early eighteenth century, various institutions were established in London to promote these ideals; the Society of Antiquaries (founded in 1707) and the Society of Dilettanti (founded in 1734), for example, were formed by likeminded individuals who had traveled to Rome and who supported and sponsored antiquarian studies. (Lord Dartmouth was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries after his return to England in 1754.) As Joseph Addison (1672–1719) stated in his Remarks on Several Parts of Italy, first published in 1705, a trip to the Eternal City served as a means to steep oneself in the glo- ries that educated Englishmen sought to recreate.

Lord Dartmouth and Robert Clements took very different routes to Italy in the mid-eighteenth century. The former, grandson of the First Earl, whom he succeeded in 1750, traveled at the out- set in 1751–52 to Berlin, Dresden, and Vienna, and attended lectures in Leipzig (indicated by manuscript sources cited in Black 1992, 63–64). He arrived in Rome by January 1753 and returned to England via Turin by the end of the summer (according to sources cited in Ingamells 1997, 227). By contrast, Robert Clements, the son of the Irish Deputy Vice-Treasurer and Teller of the Exchequer, most likely followed the typical itinerary via Paris and Lyon, across the Alps and into the Piedmont region, arriving in Turin in February 1754. He remained in Italy about six months and documented much of his journey in a detailed chronicle. Once in Rome, both men frequented the same circle of agents and antiquarians, visited the same palaces and monuments, and patronized many of the same painters and art dealers.

According to correspondence and documents from the period, James Russel (about 1720–1763), an English painter and antiquary who lived in Rome from 1740 until his death, served as Lord Dartmouth's principal guide during his Roman sojourn (based on sources cited in Clark and Bowron 1985, 266, and Ingamells 1997, 277). He was assisted by his close associate Thomas Jenkins (1722–1798), an artist and antiquities dealer who resided in Rome from 1751 onwards and who eventually became the wealthiest and most influential figure in the city's English colony. Both men also served as agents the following year for Clements (according to his "Grand Tour Journal" of 1754).

On behalf of their patrons, Russel and Jenkins arranged visits to prominent sites, acted as dealers for the sale of ancient statues and busts, and functioned as interme- diaries for various commissions for artist-friends such as Richard Wilson (1713–1782, who was in Rome from 1751 to about 1756/57), Giambattista Piranesi (1720–1778), and Pompeo Batoni. In the years to come, the English ciceroni established especially close business relations with Batoni, who painted numerous portraits of their clients.

Two of the earliest customers that Russel and Jenkins apparently sent to Batoni were Lord Dartmouth, in 1753, and Robert Clements, in 1754. (For the artist's other patronage networks, see Clark and Bowron 1985, 29.) By this time the Italian painter was 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 of Europe (noted by Clark 1981, 105–106).

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. As Anthony Clark has argued, the portraits of the 1750s were especially appealing due to their extraordinary quality and the artist's determination to establish and sustain his preeminence (1981, 114). In the case of the paintings of Lord Dartmouth and Robert Clements, they also appeared to represent accurately the personal interests of the sitters. In addition to the introduction of motifs that Batoni later employed repeatedly, such as the appearance of the landscape background and the inclusion of ancient sculpture, these two works seemed to be carefully composed to satisfy the established tastes and preconceived notions that Lord Dartmouth and Clements brought to Rome.

The standing, three-quarter-length figure of Lord Dartmouth in Batoni's painting (executed in oil on canvas and measuring 38H x 29 inches), begun in 1753 but not completed until 1756, represented the sitter leaning to one side on a pedestal situated in a portico-like setting. A high balcony or balustrade behind him opened onto a hilly landscape with unidentifiable structures in the distance. The composition had been employed by Batoni before, and it was modeled after an earlier generation of Grand-Tour portraits with landscape backgrounds. Yet the portrayal was more vivid and powerful than those produced by any other contemporary painter in Rome or elsewhere in Europe, and it was characterized—by all accounts—by a remarkably accurate likeness. 

In spite of the limited repertoire of poses and accessories, Batoni succeeded in carefully rendering features—of both the subject and the surroundings—that highlighted individual aims. For Lord Dartmouth in particular, the Italian landscape was a major focus of his visit to the southern European peninsula, recorded in numerous letters, acquisitions, and commissions (cited in Manuscripts 1896). For example, in the series of paintings and drawings that he specifically requested from Richard Wilson during his sojourn in Rome, Wilson intentionally depicted both actual Italian sites and imaginary scenes. The latter images were carefully modeled after the most prominent seventeenth-century landscape painters working in Rome, especially those by the leading landscapist Claude Lorrain (1600–1687).

Several paintings by Claude, very similar to the one now at the Hood Museum of Art, were owned by both Lord Dartmouth and Robert Clements (cited in Manuscripts 1896, 3: 168–70, and Smith, 1829–42, 8: 205). Following the principles outlined by Jonathan Richardson Sr. (1665–1745) and his son Jonathan Richardson Jr. (1694–1771) in their guidebook of 1722, An Account of Some of the Statues, Bas-Reliefs, Drawings and Pictures in Italy, these paintings were intended to evoke both the uniqueness of the Roman Campagna and nostalgia for the classical past. Such notions reflected the eighteenth-century English fascination with the picturesque landscape, and Batoni's portrait of Lord Dartmouth prominently featured the sitter's profound connection to this tradition.

While the pose of Robert Clements in Batoni's oil painting of 1754 was nearly identical to that shown in Lord Dartmouth's portrait by the same artist (and with almost the same dimensions, 39I x 29I inches), the setting was entirely different. Compared to the semi-open-air atmosphere depicted in the earlier canvas, Clements was portrayed indoors in front of a classically designed pilaster and next to a sculpted bust. Apparently (according to Russell 1973, 1609), this was the painter's first use of an antique sculpture to suggest the sitter's appreciation of ancient art.

Batoni's reputation as a one of the foremost copyists of classical statuary in drawings provided the ideal preparation for his emblematic use of the antiquities of Rome in painted portraits. In the case of the portrayal of Clements, a bust of Homer (who lived before 700 B.C.E.) 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 all invented portraits of antiquity, corresponded in all essential details with the one in the Farnese collection in Rome. In the spring of 1754, Clements noted in his journal general observations about the distinguished palace interior and its decorations, as well as a particular comment about the "famous bust of Homer, Antich [sic] & extremely fine." As another British visitor in the eighteenth century wrote from Rome, "many excellent busts of Homer . . . will bring the Iliad to your remembrance" (Beckford 1805, 2: 122, cited in Clark and Bowron 1985, 258).

Such references were common in an era absorbed with the works attributed to the first European poet, and especially following the supreme translation of the Iliad by Alexander Pope (1688–1744), published in six volumes between 1715 and 1720. For Pope and many of his readers, Homer perfectly mirrored an ideal, heroic world, similar to the one described by British travelers writing about their journeys to Italy. The inclusion of the bust of Homer in Batoni's portrait of Clements suggested 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 (espoused, for example, by Shaftesbury 1711, 1: 217–18). The wide acceptance of this notion may account for the appearance of the same bust in some later portraits by Batoni and other artists in Rome (listed in Clark and Bowron 1985, 258, and Tutsch 1995, 115–21).

Although there is no specific documentation indicating that the sitter had instructed Batoni about how he or she was to be portrayed, undoubtedly the painter would have discussed in detail the proposed composition and other issues associated with the client's attitude, attire, and accessories (mentioned in Clark and Bowron 1985, 51). 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 promulgated by 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 type of portraiture and eventually created an iconic image of the British traveler.

Bibliography of Cited Works

Beckford 1805. Peter Beckford, Familiar Letters from Italy to a Friend in England, 2 vols. Salisbury: J. Easton.

Black 1992. Jeremy Black, The British Abroad: The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Clark 1981. Anthony M. Clark, Studies in Roman Eighteenth-Century Painting, ed. Edgar Peters Bowron. Washington, D.C.: Decatur House Press.

Clark and Bowron 1985. Anthony M. Clark, Pompeo Batoni: A Complete Catalogue of His Works, ed. Edgar Peters Bowron. Oxford: Phaidon.

Clements 1754. Robert Clements, "Grand Tour Journal," manuscript, Celbridge, Ireland, Killadoon Papers, S/1.

Haskell 1996. Francis Haskell, "Preface," in Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Andrew Wilton and Ilaria Bignamini, 10–12. London: Tate Gallery Publishing.

Ingamells 1997. John Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers to Italy, 1701–1800. New Haven: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art at Yale University Press.

Manuscripts 1896. The Manuscripts of the Earl of Dartmouth, ed. The Historical Manuscripts Commission, 3 vols. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.

Russell 1973. Francis Russell, "Portraits on the Grand Tour. Batoni's British Sitters," Country Life 153 (7–14 June): 1608–10, and 1754–56.

Shaftesbury 1711. Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, 3 vols. London: s.n.

Smith 1829–42. John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters, 9 vols. London: Smith and Son.

Tutsch 1995. Claudia Tutsch. "Man mufl mit ihnen, wie mit seinem Freund, bekannt geworden seyn . . ." Zum Bildnis Johann Joachim Winckelmanns von Anton von Maron. Mainz: Philip von Zabern.

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Written September 01, 2003 by Kristin Swan