Roman Wall Painting Resurfaces After Almost 200 Years Art And Wall Art

interior wall decoration Roman Wall Painting Resurfaces After Almost 200 Years Art And Wall Art

interior wall decoration Roman Wall Painting Resurfaces After Almost 200 Years Art And Wall Art

Ancient roman wall painting resurfaces after 200 years
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Florent Heintz, the head of the ancient sculpture department at Sotheby’s, first saw the panel when it was brought into the New York office on behalf of an American collector.

© Sotheby’s Detail from Horace Walpole’s Roman wall painting, one of the collector’s pieces that were auctioned almost 200 years ago.

Walpole collected genuine art masterpieces for his father Robert Walpole, the first prime minister, at his palatial Houghton Hall in Norfolk, but as a youngest son he never had enough money to collect on that scale himself. Strawberry Hill was a conjuring trick, a transformation of two modest cottages created like a stage set with plaster and timber masquerading as solid stone, which has caused endless problems in the recent major restoration.

The wall panel is now precious to Heintz and Davoli, not for the surviving scraps of real ancient Roman paint, but because Walpole once owned it.

Under raking light, x-ray and other tests, the panel proved to be as genuinely ancient Roman as a snow globe Colosseum. The plaster was genuine but extensively repaired, the leaves and flowers were painted in oils over the faint marks of the original decoration, and the entire lower scene had been added.

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Walpole believed his pretty panel of genuine Roman plaster, with delicate swags of leaves and flowers and a relief-moulded garlanded head, and a banquet scene with a sprawled river god, was the real deal. He placed it over the door to his private library in the cottage to which he retreated when his famous house, Strawberry Hill in west London, was over-run with visitors. “I keep an inn at the sign of the gothic castle,” Walpole once grumbled to a friend.

Florent Heintz, head of the ancient sculpture department at Sotheby’s, first saw the panel when it was brought into the auction house’s New York office on behalf of an American collector. He could see at a glance that most of it was 18th-century over-painting, made by one of the ingenious workshops in Rome which churned out antiquities for gullible Grand Tour collectors. It was so heavily restored that it was of minimal interest and so he turned it down flatly.

Like many of his treasures, the painting was not quite what poor Walpole hoped. Although expected to do much better than the seven guineas it fetched in 1842, it has a low estimate of £15,000 when it comes up for sale again at Sotheby’s on 3 July, and the estimate would be much lower without the Walpole connection.

Sat 30 Jun 2018 12.43 BST Last modified on Mon 2 Jul 2018 11.09 BST

Panel once owned by 18th-century collector Horace Walpole to go up for auction

Then he met Silvia Davoli, an art historian who is tracking Walpole’s lost collection to reunite the treasures for an exhibition at Strawberry Hill next winter.

She and Heintz, who has a photographic memory and spends his spare time poring over old sale and exhibition catalogues, traced a marble sarcophagus on lions’ feet which once stood in Walpole’s garden and is now in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Heintz could see at a glance that most of it was 18th-century over-painting, done by one of the ingenious workshops in Rome which churned out antiquities for gullible Grand Tour collectors. It was so heavily restored that it was of minimal interest and he turned it down.

Indeed, Heintz tracked an engraving of a genuine Roman tomb painting discovered in the early 18th century, which shows half of the scene that was almost certainly copied on to the Walpole panel. He concedes that it’s an interesting early Grand Tour souvenir, since the trade was at its height much later in the century.

An ancient Roman wall painting once owned by the 18th-century collector, connoisseur, wit and gossip Horace Walpole has resurfaced almost 200 years after his treasures were scattered at auction.

Walpole collected genuine masterpieces for his father, Robert, the first prime minister, at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, but as a youngest son he never had enough money to collect on that scale himself.

He filled Strawberry Hill with wonders he believed were once owned by kings, cardinals and emperors, such as a comb that he believed Pope Gregory gave to Saint Bertha.

Under raking light, x-ray and other tests, the panel was as genuinely ancient Roman as a snow globe Colosseum. The plaster was genuine but extensively repaired, the leaves and flowers were painted in oils over the faint marks of the original decoration, and the entire lower scene had been added. Indeed Heintz tracked an engraving of a genuine Roman tomb painting discovered in the early 18th century, which shows half of the scene and from which it was almost certainly copied by a workshop which knew exactly what English tourists wanted to spend their holiday money on. He concedes that it’s an interestingly early Grand Tour souvenir, since the trade was at its height much later in the century.

Davoli sent Heintz a 1745 engraving of the Roman painting made for Conyers Middleton, an English clergyman, traveller and collector, who sold it to Walpole, and Heintz instantly recognised the panel he had spurned. “There was a delicate conversation with the owner,” he said, “when I had to phone and say actually I may have been too hasty.”

Like many of his treasures, the painting was not quite what Walpole had hoped. Although it is expected to attract far more than the seven guineas it fetched in 1842, it has a low estimate of £15,000 for the auction at Sotheby’s on 3 July, and it would be even lower without the Walpole connection.

When Davoli sent Heintz a 1745 engraving of the Roman painting made for Conyers Middleton, an English collector, who sold it to Walpole, he instantly recognised the spurned panel. “There was a delicate conversation with the owner,” he said, “when I had to phone and say: ‘Actually, I may have been too hasty.’”

Detail from Horace Walpole’s Roman wall painting, one of the collector’s pieces that were auctioned almost 200 years ago. Photograph: Sotheby’s

He filled his house with wonders he believed were once owned by kings, cardinals and emperors, such as a comb treasured because he believed Pope Gregory gave to Saint Bertha. All were scattered after his death in a famous sale for which excursion trips were run from London. His wall panel is precious to Heintz and Davoli not for the surviving scraps of real ancient Roman paint, but because Walpole once owned it.

Walpole believed his panel of Roman plaster, painted with delicate swags of leaves and flowers, a relief-moulded, garlanded head, and a banquet scene with a sprawled river god, was the real deal. He placed it over the door to his private library in the cottage to which he retreated when his famous house, Strawberry Hill in west London, was over-run with visitors. “I keep an inn at the sign of the gothic castle,” Walpole once grumbled to a friend.

An “ancient” Roman wall painting once owned by the 18th-century collector, connoisseur, wit and gossip Horace Walpole has resurfaced almost 200 years after his treasures were dispersed at auction.

Then he met Silvia Davoli, an art historian who is tracking Walpole’s lost collection to bring the scattered treasures back for an exhibition at Strawberry Hill next winter. Heintz has a photographic memory, and spends much of his spare time poring over old sale and exhibition catalogues – “it is very sad, I know it”. Together they tracked down a marble sarcophagus on lion’s paw feet which once stood in Walpole’s garden and was recorded in an 1800 engraving, three years after his death, and is now in the collection of the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge.

Roman Wall Painting Resurfaces After Almost 200 Years Art And Wall Art