A VIEW THE SO-CALLED TOMB OF THE HORATII & CURATII, NEAR ALBANO
Bears inscription verso A sepulchered building near Albano, commonly called the tomb of the Horatii / 1795
Watercolour with black chalk
50 x 76.5cm
The present work bears notable similarities to a view from the same perspective by Jacob Moore, recently sold at Lempertz, Cologne, 30.05.2020, Lot 2502 [see third image above]. We are grateful to Dr Patricia Andrew, who has kindly confirmed that the present sheet is not a further work by Moore. The unusual form of this monument, located outside Albano (ancient Alba Longa), near Rome, made it a well-known sight. Its name derives from two legendary families referred to by Livy, the Horatii of Rome and their adversaries the Curiatti from Alba Longa who were thought to be buried in the Tomb. The battle between brothers from these two rival families was set in the earliest years of Rome’s existence; in reality, the Tomb, with its distinctive ‘towers’ dates to the late Republic. The conical forms of these towers imitate earlier, Etruscan, funerary monuments.
William Evans expertly described the tomb thus when writing about Lord Botetourt's reconstruction of it for his estate in Stoke-Gifford:
"Nowadays the structure stands where the Borgo Garibaldi leaves the course of the ancient Via Appia. It has a tall 15 metre-square concrete base faced with peperino, a brown-grey volcanic tufa peppered with grains of black basalt. On each of the four corners of the base stands truncated cone, also made out of blocks of peperino. Between them rises a fifth stump, above the tomb chamber whose masonry has allowed archaeologists to date the structure to the late republican period. There is no other existing structure in Italy like it, but there are representations of similar- shaped tombs on Etruscan urns of the Hellenistic period..."
Ducros was born in Moudon, Switzerland, the son of a drawing master at Yverdon College. He was sent to Geneva to study under Nicolas-Henri-Joseph de Fassin, a Dutch landscape artist who spent several years offering lessons in Geneva. Ducros left for Italy, where his teacher de Fassin had come to Geneva from, and established himself in Rome at the end of 1776.
The young Swiss artist faced a serious challenge when he came to Rome: the artistic firmament of the city was well-established and showed little signs of changing dramatically, leaving comparatively little space for an ambitious young upstart. Jacob Philip Hackert and his brother Johann Gottlieb dominated the field of decorative classical landscapes in gouache and watercolour; while the Scottish Jacob Moore was the traditional choice for British tourists looking for topographically accurate landscapes.
Fortunately Ducros' first major commission was to provide him with subjects that he would reuse throughout his career and establish him commercially. This came in March of 1778, when he was employed by a pair of Dutch noblemen - perhaps acquaintances of de Fassin - to accompany them and record their voyage to Sicily and Malta, during which time Ducros created almost three hundred watercolours (now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).
Despite this early success, Ducros realised that the only avenue for landscape painters of his sort during those days was to cater to the tourist market for decorative watercolours. He distinguished himself from his competitors in a remarkably forward-thinking fashion, by going into business with the Roman engraver Giovanni Volpato: the printmaker would expertly create very faintly etched outlines of popular vistas, which Ducros could then hand colour, thereby speeding the traditional process up considerably and ensuring some quality control simultaneously. Volpato was already renowned for his engravings after Raphael's decorations of the Papal apartments and his reproductions of the archaeological discoveries made around the Baths of Caracalla and Arch of Titus by Gavin Hamilton.
The added advantage of this new mix of media was that Ducros and Volpato could swiftly provide very large pictures, often measuring more than a metre in width, which provided a more affordable but impressive alternative to the oil paintings of the lesser landscape artists of the day. Frequently these 'watercolours with etched outlines' were hardly touched by Ducros, who would employ students and assistants to hand colour the majority of the work, often only interceding to add specific details. Such works were often just as crisp and fresh as an original might be, sometimes even more so as the outlines were even stronger than pen or pencil could be.
Not only could the new generation of clients who bought such works impress their friends with the size of such works, but they could also claim that they were in fact 'original' watercolours with hand-drawn elements, thereby avoiding some of the inherent value judgement placed on prints within the hierarchy of arts. Similarly, dealers could (and often still do!) pass such works off in the same way, charging as much as they would for an original work and deceiving the buyer.
In collaboration with Volpato, Ducros published in 1780 twenty-four engravings depicting Views of Rome and its surroundings which secured his fame from thenceforth. His regular clients were largely English noblemen on their Grand Tour, including the aforementioned Sir Richard Colt Hoare (several of whose purchases remain at Stourhead), Milford Hervey, and Lord Breadalbane. However, in 1782, he received a commission from Paul Alexandrovitch of Russia for an oil painting and, in 1782, a commission from Pope Pius VI for a similar work. In 1784, Gustav III of Sweden was his largest purchaser, commissioning the large-scale watercolours that Ducros would also pioneer.
To maintain such works' size, Ducros would paste his drawings onto canvas in his studio and mount them on a stretcher, often working across several sheets of paper joined together. He would then exhibit these impressive pieces in his studio, which was kept open for passing clients and visitors. Ducros' ambition was certainly by this stage to compete with the vedutisti working in oils, as he framed and glazed his works in exactly the same fashion as these competitors.
By the end of his career Ducros had succesfully joined the ranks of Hackert et al., and had been an influence on artists like 'Warwick' Smith, John Robert Cozens, Giovanni Battista Lusieri and the French Louis-Francois Cassas among others.
William Evans, Norborne Berkeley’s monument to the Horatii and Curiatii, Trans. Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, vol. 131 (2013), pp.221–228 - Available to view online at: https://www.bgas.org.uk/tbgas_bg/v131/bg131221.pdf [Last accessed 15.06.2022]
Images of the Grand Tour: Louis Ducros, 1748-1810 (exhib. cat.), Geneva (1985)