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Works Thomas Girtin after Marco Ricci

Ancient Ruins, with an Obelisk

1800 - 1801

Primary Image: TG0881: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), after Marco Ricci (1676–1730), Ancient Ruins, with an Obelisk, 1800–01, graphite and watercolour on laid paper, 30.5 × 48 cm, 12 × 18 ⅞ in. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1975.3.1069).

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (Public Domain)

Artist's source: Davide Fossati (1708–95), after Marco Ricci (1676–1730), etching, Antique Ruins with an Obelisk for 24 Landscapes after Marco Ricci, pl.7, 1743, 24.8 × 35.5 cm, 9 ¾ × 14 in. British Museum, London (1917,1208.35.8).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Marco Ricci (1676-1730)
  • Ancient Ruins, with an Obelisk
1800 - 1801
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on laid paper
30.5 × 48 cm, 12 × 18 ⅞ in
Object Type
Studio Watercolour; Work from a Known Source: Foreign Master
Subject Terms
Classical Buildings: Imaginary

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
307 as 'Classical Composition'; '1798–9'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001


Elhanan Bicknell (1788–1861); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 29 April 1863, lot 8 as 'The Forum at Rome'; bought by 'Noseda', £5 17s 6d; George Wyndham Girtin (1836–1912) (lent to London, 1871; London, 1875); then by descent to Thomas Girtin (1874–1960); given to Tom Girtin (1913–94), c.1938; bought by John Baskett on behalf of Paul Mellon (1907–99), 1970; presented to the Center, 1975

Exhibition History

London, 1871, no.91 as ’Architectural Composition, with Figures’; London, 1875, no.13 as ’Ruins at Rome’; Sheffield, 1952, no.48; London, 1962a, no.146; Reading, 1969, no.45; New Haven, 1977, no.117; New Haven, 1986a, no.71


Morris, 1986, p.18; YCBA Online as 'Classical Composition' (Accessed 14/09/2022)

About this Work

This is one of six watercolours that were painted by Girtin from etchings made after the architectural views of the Italian artist Marco Ricci (1676–1730) (see the source image above). The etchings were executed by Davide Fossati (1708–95) and published in Venice in 1743 as 24 Landscapes after Marco Ricci. The Venetian artist enjoyed considerable popularity in England following his two stays (1708–11 and 1712–16), and his Vedute – imaginary architectural views combining ruined buildings and sculptures in a generic classical, Italianate style – found a ready market, first as bodycolours and then as etchings published by Fossati and others after his death. In this example, Girtin followed Fossati’s etching closely, down to including the same figures, who are hoisting a ladder from which the ruins might be inspected. Girtin also followed the sense of the print, which reverses the direction of Ricci’s original tempera (see figure 1). The colours employed by Girtin bear no relation to those in the Ricci model, which has been in the royal collection since 1762 and to which the artist, in any case, could not have had access. However, as Susan Morris has noted, Girtin would have seen a number of Ricci’s bodycolours in the collection of his early patron Dr Thomas Monro (1759–1833), and the colour range in this watercolour does match, to some degree, the Venetian artist’s characteristic palette (Morris, 1986, p.18). The watercolour, which at one time was known erroneously as ‘The Forum, Rome’, includes antique fragments that are rather more recognisable than was generally the case for Ricci, and it is consequently closer to the architectural views of Charles-Louis Clérisseau (1721–1820), which Girtin also copied (such as TG0548). The statue of a seated female figure on a plinth, seen to the right, is thus based on the Seated Agrippina in the Capitoline Museum, Rome (now thought to represent Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine), and the prominent central motif of ruined archways resembles the Baths of Caracalla. The triumphal arch seen through the left-hand arch recalls that of Constantine, whilst in the distance is the recognisable form of the Pyramid of Cestius.

A Ruin Capriccio, with Roman Motifs

All six of the copies after Ricci’s compositions were executed on similar laid paper, each measuring roughly 32 × 48 cm (12 ½ × 19 in) – that is, larger than the originals – and it is therefore tempting to characterise them in the same terms as the set of watercolours that Girtin produced after the compositions of Charles-Louis Clérisseau (1721–1820) (such as TG0888). However, although the Ricci copies are also based on prints, there is no evidence that they were produced on commission for a patron such as John Henderson (1764–1843). Indeed, appearing to date from later on stylistic grounds, say around 1800–1801, the watercolours were probably made for sale on the open market, where two of them were bought by an early collector of Girtin’s work, either Peter Bluett (1767–1863) of Holcombe Court in Devon or a relative of a later owner of the property, the Revd William Rayer (1786–1866). The fact that the works were not acquired directly from the artist by a patron who had a say in their production is, I suggest, of some importance, as it significantly increases the possibility that Girtin bought the Fossati prints himself, just as he was to do with a group of French architectural views published in twelve volumes as Voyage Pittoresque de la France (La Borde and others, 1781–1800). Moreover, he did so with the intention of making saleable commodities, and there is certainly no question of his having produced the copies for his own study. The work has faded somewhat, making precise dating difficult, but the manner in which the artist has fudged the spatial relationship between the foreground and the distance, and the lack of a coherent lighting scheme, recalls the slightly disappointing effect of later print copies such as Lyons Cathedral (TG1907) from around 1802, rather than the more carefully articulated earlier versions of Clérisseau’s prints. Indeed, although not presumably from Girtin’s last year, the Ricci-inspired watercolours feel later in date than the 1798–99 proposed by Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.176).

1794 - 1797

An Imaginary Composition with Antique Ruins and Figures


1799 - 1800

Rome: The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina


(?) 1802

Lyon Cathedral


by Greg Smith

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