Roberts had travelled extensively on sketching tours through France, Flanders, Spain, Germany and the Holy Land before visiting Italy in 1851. He confined himself to Northern Italy on that occasion but in September 1853 set out to join his friends Charles and Louis Haghe on a trip to Rome. They met in Paris and travelled through France, then by diligence along the coast road to Genoa, by sea to Leghorn [Livorno] and train to Pisa then Florence, before returning to Leghorn for sea passage to Civita Vecchia and coach to Rome, arriving in late October. Roberts’ main aim was to paint an interior of St Peter’s and he had not intended to stay long in Rome. But permission to work in the basilica was so restrictive that it took him much longer than he had planned. When not able to paint in St Peter’s he made sketches around the city.
The present watercolour is typical of Roberts’ on-the-spot studies. Architecture is drawn carefully in perspective, with highlights picked out in white and areas of sky and cloud roughed in to strengthen the composition.
We are grateful to Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz who wrote this information.
‘I cannot attempt to give any general description of Rome, but the objects of interest far exceed my expectations. The vast remains of theatres, baths and temples are magnificent, while the delicious climate, and the picturesque costumes of the people, render the place very attractive … The city, with St. Peter’s, the Vatican, and the castle of St. Angelo, seemed bathed in floods of living fire.’ (Roberts’ letter to his daughter Christine, quoted in J. Ballantine, The Life of David Roberts R.A., Edinburgh, 1866, p.179)