This landscape depicts the area surrounding the Tivoli waterfalls in Italy. Thanks to its proximity in Rome, which lies some 30 km to the Southwest, Tivoli has long been a destination for artists. The Italian landscapists whose work was so coveted by Grand Tourist collectors—Claude, Gaspard Dughet and Salvator Rosa—all sketched there, while the Northern Italianates, including Cornelis van Poelenburgh, Pieter van Laer, and Gaspar van Wittel also sought out the spectacular views. Jan Brueghel the Elder drew the Temple of Vesta as early as 1593, using the drawing as a basis for a capriccio landscape. Tivoli boasts an ideal combination of factors: Classical ruins, rustic modern buildings, grottoes, a plunging cascade, Salvatorean wildness and of course significant historical and mythological associations.
In the eighteenth century, Tivoli and its temple gradually became one of the most represented subjects in the history of painting, particularly in French painting. The architectural perfection of its monuments, its location in the heart of a sublime and terrifying landscape, the incomparable richness of its history and legends, made it a subject revered by artists and collectors. It was also at this time that the temple of Tivoli was surrounded by workshops built in the gardens.
In this painting, at the top of the mountain on the left, we can see the Temple of vesta – a small circular Roman temple in Tivoli, Italy, dating to the early 1st Century BC. Its ruins are dramatically sited on the acropolis of the Etruscan and Roman city, overlooking the falls of the Aniene and a picturesque narrow gully. As depicted here, the temple’s capitals have much been admired and imitated, and their variation of the Corinthian order sometimes even called the ‘Tivoli order’. The Temple of Vesta itself sits within the larger complex of the Villa Gregoriana overlooking the falls of the Aniene river. The Temple’s iconic and immediately recognisable silhouette made it a sort of shorthand for ‘Italy’, and thus it appeared in landscape paintings of all sorts, both naturalistic and imaginary. Copies of the building itself were requested for eighteenth century English gardens including those at Stowe, Stourhead, and Downhill, where they signified the taste and culture of the estate owners.