Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Three 18th c. Gentlemen & One Red Velvet Coat: Who Wore It Best?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Isabella reporting,

For 18th c. British gentlemen on their leisurely Grand Tour of Italy, there were certain "must-see" items on their agendas: the Colosseum by moonlight, Venice during Carnival, Naples when Mt. Vesuvius was shooting sparks into the sky...and a stop at the studio in Rome of the painter Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787) for an elegant portrait to ship back home.

While Batoni painted historical and Biblical scenes as well as portraits of Italian clerics and ladies, he had his greatest success painting lush, life-sized portraits of young foreigners in classically-inspired settings. These are only three of the many, many that survive in collections around the world and on the walls of British country houses.

While indulgent parents back home might grumble at the cost of sending their scions oversees for (supposedly) educational trips that might last a year or more, they must have proudly hung these portraits in their libraries and drawing rooms.  Here was the painted proof that their sons were worldly gentleman of learning and accomplishment, of confidence and self-assurance. And, much like a modern selfie, a portrait by Batoni was also proof that the gentleman had actually *been* to Italy.

Batoni knew his patrons' tastes well. In addition to trappings like maps, busts of ancient emperors, weighty tomes, a looming column, and a faithful dog, he also must have offered the suitably exotic "foreign" costume for the portrait. Whether the costume worn in each of these portraits - a fur-lined red velvet coat (worn or draped over the shoulders like a cloak) and red velvet breeches, a white silk satin waistcoat, and a black silk ribbon from the wearer's queue trailing nonchalantly forward around his collar – actually existed in the studio to be worn while posing, or was simply painted in by Batoni doesn't really matter. The beautifully textured velvet and fur indicate a rich, luxurious experience that could only be had in Rome.

So here are three portraits, three gentlemen, one costume, and one painter. Which painting do you think best captures the spirit of the Georgian gentleman having his Roman Moment? (As always, click on the images to enlarge them.)

Top left: Portrait of Richard Milles (1735-1820), by Pompeo Batoni, c. 1760s. National Gallery, London.
Right: Charles Compton, 7th Earl of Northampton (1737-1763), by Pompeo Batoni, 1758. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Bottom left: Portrait of Edward Dring, by Pompeo Batoni, 1758. Private Collection.


Hels said...

I am a Batoni fanatic and certainly would have spent my parents' hard earned income on a suitable portrait, had I done the Grand Tour in Batoni's time.

The first two paintings are equally wonderful, but Portrait of Edward Dring (1758) doesn't seem to have an identifiable landscape in the background. Since the idea was to prove the young man was actually studying in Rome (or wherever), the mere presence of Italian sculpture on the desk would not have been enough.

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

I wonder if he had the paintings already done and just painted in the appropriate face? It would certainly save time ;-)

Jane Salemson said...

# 3 is yummy.

Unknown said...

I actually like the first one. The 3rd one is a bit creepy by the way Batoni paitnted the face.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else think Dude #2 looks like Leo DiCaprio (old Leo, not current Leo)?

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