Draughtsman in the Ruins on the Palatine
Red chalk on ribbed hand-made paper, early mount
Inv. No. 16802 (Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein e. V.)
38.5 × 49.7 cm
Draughtsmen in the Ruins of the Palatine, an undated drawing by the Frenchman Hubert Robert, is thought to have been executed in Rome between 1760 and 1765. Without having completed conventional academic training in Paris, Robert had travelled to Italy and arrived in Rome – the eighteenth century’s international art metropolis – in 1754, at the age of twenty-one. He lived in Rome until 1765, i.e. for more than ten years. There he established a friendship with Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and, under the influence of Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691–1765) and Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), produced scenes of architecture and ruins which soon caught the attention of early neo-classical-period collectors, who were full of enthusiasm for antiquity. He executed vedute of Rome, composed capriccios which drew upon his artistic imagination as well as on reality, and frequently combined them with cleverly devised genre scenes.
Hubert Robert left behind a large body of drawings. Outstanding watercolours and shed pen drawings by him are among the earliest holdings of the Städel’s graphic arts collection. It was only a few years ago, however, that the Department of Prints and Drawings managed to acquire one of his drawings in red chalk. This medium was extremely popular in the eighteenth century, and Robert himself favoured it. Using the soft, reddish-brown chalk, he produced patches of brittle, shaded hatching to create the mood-charged impression of air suffused with the sunlight shining upon the scene.
Here Robert depicts an impenetrable, rocky terrain in front of ancient walls with massively built round arches. An uprooted tree-trunk seems to serve as an improvised walkway. It intersects with a ladder set up in the background to take the climber to the heights of the rampant vegetation cascading down over the stonework. The sketchers, who have positioned themselves in the foreground, seem to be directing equal attention to classical antiquity and nature – thus reflecting the way in which drawing was studied i Robert’s day in the city of Rome and its surroundings. Indeed, under Charles-Joseph Natoire (1700–1777) – the director of the Académie de France at the time – this combination was expressly required of recipients of scholarships to study in Rome.
After his return to Paris, the high quality of Robert’s many drawings and paintings of landscapes with ruins earned him the title – coined especially for him – of »peintre des ruines«. It was accordingly as a »painter of ruins« that Robert was admitted to the French Royal Academy in 1766.