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June 7th, 1999
Rome's 18th Century Treasures are Showcased in Major International Exhibition

Throughout the 18th century, the city of Rome--with its antiquities, Renaissance and Baroque monuments, and cosmopolitan spirit--was the artistic and cultural capital of Europe. This was the Rome of the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, the Rome of carnivals and papal ceremonies, the Rome that Piranesi depicted in his celebrated prints--a mecca for amateur, student and professional artists from throughout the Western world. Rome in the 18th Century will present, on a scale never before attempted in the United States, the rich vitality of the city's artistic and cultural life toward the end of its existence as an independent papal state (in 1871, Rome became the political seat of newly united Italy). On view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from March 16 through May 28, 2000, the exhibition will include a spectacular array of paintings, sculpture, works on paper, decorative arts, architectural renderings and models--some 380 works of art by more than 160 artists.

A strong sense of their city's cultural centrality encouraged Rome's 18th-century civic and religious leaders to construct or embellish numerous churches, palaces, fountains, public plazas (piazze), gardens and galleries. The breadth of these undertakings made Rome a preeminent training ground and destination for artists and artisans working in a wide range of mediums, and resulted in a city of astounding physical beauty distinguished by a profound sense of history made material in monuments that both impress and move the visitor. Rome in the 18th Century will present a wealth of works of art that demonstrate the magnitude of the city's artistic and cultural prestige throughout the period.

Painters who studied or worked in the city during the 18th century comprised a diverse and surprisingly international group, including Germany's Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-79), the Frenchmen Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), Hubert Robert (1733-1808) and Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), and Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) of Switzerland, and Italy's own Pompeo Batoni (1708-87) and Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674-1755), among others. Despite the strong national affiliations maintained by individual artists, they were united by the strength and precedent of historic and contemporary Roman culture, and nurtured by enlightened secular and ecclesiastical patronage.

Similarly, Roman sculpture of the period was the product of cosmopolitan influences. The Frenchman Pierre Legros the Younger (1666-1719) dramatically transformed the precedents established by Bernini, and set the stage for the remarkable developments of Camillo Rusconi (1658-1728) and Pietro Bracci (1700-73), among others. Featured in the exhibition are Legros's St. Luigi Gonzaga in Glory, Rusconi's Giulia Albani degli Abati Olivieri (c. 1719), and Bracci's Allegorical Figure of Strength (c. 1741), as well as Clodion's River Rhine Separating the Waters (1765), Jean-Antoine Houdon's St. Bruno (1766-77), and Bartolomeo Cavaceppi's Emperor Caracalla (1750-70). Related changes in architectural style can be followed from the stately Baroque classicism exemplified by Carlo Fontana (1638-1714) at the turn of the century, through the exuberant and innovative theatricality of the Spanish Steps (1723) and Trevi Fountain (1732-62), to the austere and refined neoclassicism dominant at the century's end, exemplified by Giuseppe Valadier's restructuring of the Piazza del Popolo (designed c. 1794).

Works by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-78) are especially familiar to contemporary audiences, and the exhibition will devote an entire section to prints, drawings, books, buildings and decorative designs by this prodigiously talented artist. Drawing was an essential component of printmaking as well as painting, architecture and sculpture, and Rome's public and private academies produced draftsmen of astounding proficiency. The exhibition highlights 18th-century Rome's accomplishments in this medium through some 100 works that demonstrate the wide variety of uses for drawings, including preparatory studies, landscapes and city views, portraits and caricatures, fantasies, academic studies, and competition exercises.

Rome in the 18th Century is made possible in part by the generous co-sponsorship of ADVANTA and American Water Works. Additional support is provided by USAirways and by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Initial funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and generous individuals. NBC 10 WCAU is the media sponsor.

The exhibition is organized by Joseph J. Rishel, The Gisela and Dennis Alter Senior Curator of European Painting and Sculpture before 1900; Ann Percy, Curator of Drawings; and Dean Walker, The Henry P. McIlhenny Senior Curator of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture, together with an international team of scholars. A fully illustrated catalogue with entries and essays contributed by the organizing curators and other authors will accompany the exhibition.

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