This previously unrecorded painting was made by Jacob More in Italy in 1778. Executed on copper, it is an exquisite cabinet painting almost certainly made for the tourist market, capturing a familiar view of the Roman Campagna in a distinctly Claudian manner. More was one of the most successful British landscape painters resident in Rome during the second half of the eighteenth century and his work was in high demand amongst wealthy visitors to the city, the present tondo is a quintessential Grand Tour souvenir.
More was born in Edinburgh where he was first apprenticed to a goldsmith and then, from 1764, to the Norie family of housepainters. Alexander Runciman became More's master on Norie's death in 1766. In the 1760s he produced numerous sketches of the Scottish lowlands and in 1769 he designed and executed stage sets at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, for the first productions after the legalising of the theatre in Scotland.
By 1773 More was in Rome, where he quickly established his reputation as the leading landscape painter of the thriving colony of British artists. He produced increasingly large Italianate landscapes with an acknowledged debt to Richard Wilson and Claude Lorrain. More travelled widely in Italy on sketching trips and his numerous plein air sketches reveal a light, rapid touch. The present beautifully worked tondo was painted by More in Rome, almost certainly for the Grand Tour market. The view was a familiar one to British travellers, depicting the town of Ariccia from the lushly vegetated park of Palazzo Chigi. Ariccia was one of the Castelli Romani, the towns to the southeast of Rome that had long been a favoured site for British artists. The neighbouring towns of Albano and Nemi, with their respective volcanic lakes were hugely popular subjects amongst British painters. More’s view is taken from the valley below the town, looking up to the north; on the left the hulking mass of the Palazzo Chigi is visible with the elegant dome of the church of S. Maria Assunta on the right. More’s view shows the church bell towers with their recently completed canopies, added as part of the restoration of 1771. Richard Wilson seems to have been the first British artist to have made a drawing of this view, but it was popular amongst More’s contemporaries in Rome. John ‘Warwick’ Smith made a drawing from the same position, as did Francis Towne, who was in Italy in 1779-1780.
The present attractive roundel, suffused with Claudian light, distils the British interest in the landscape of the Castelli Romani. Much of the land round Rome was deforested, but in the lushly vegetated grounds of Palazzo Chigi artists found an abundance of trees and bosky views. The portrait painter John Downman, who was in Italy in 1774, spent time in the Chigi park making careful drawings of trees. More shows the town rising above a line of trees, the knotted roots of a chestnut tree visible on the right of the composition. The present work has not previously been recorded, but we know More produced other views of Ariccia. More is recorded as having executed a watercolour ‘View in the Chigi Park at Ariccia’ for Lord Grey de Wilton in 1787.
More's success and status were recognised in 1781 with his election to the Accademia di San Luca, Rome, followed by the invitation to present his Self-Portrait to the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, in 1784. Sir Joshua Reynolds referred to More as the ‘best painter of air since Claude’ and Goethe bestowed praises on his work on visiting his studio in 1787. His work commanded high prices and he enjoyed a full order book—in 1785 he had a two-year waiting list of orders, mainly from British patrons—but he chose to work increasingly as an agent and dealer.