A Hermit Praying in the Ruins of a Roman Temple

Object Details

Title:

A Hermit Praying in the Ruins of a Roman Temple

Artist/Maker(s):

Hubert Robert (French, 1733 - 1808)

Culture:

French

Date:

about 1760

Medium:

Oil on canvas

Dimensions:

57.8 x 70.5 cm (22 3/4 x 27 3/4 in.)

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In the crumbling remains of a Roman temple, a monk prays at the foot of an altar. Absorbed in his devotions, he is unaware of three young women sneaking inside to steal flowers from a makeshift shrine. Above this trio, a woman on a ladder leans over a low wall and, with a long branch, taunts the praying hermit.

Placed on the stone altar are a crucifix, books, an open Bible, an hourglass, a skull, and a rosary. The skull and hourglass, common symbols of the temporality of man and his creations, suggest that the building itself represents fallen greatness. Hubert Robert emphasizes the ruins' immensity by contrasting the small figures with the structure's massive columns. In the left foreground, a column shrouded in darkness runs nearly the full height of the composition. Birds roosting in the upper reaches of the lofty barrel vault reinforce the impression of the monument's vast dimensions.

This small cabinet picture is one of several versions of the subject depicted by Robert beginning in the 1760s. In each of them, a monk prays beside a brick wall that has been built within the arcades of a Roman ruin. For this imaginary basilica, Robert likely drew inspiration from a contemporary print by Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

Provenance
- 1776

Louis-François de Bourbon, Prince de Conti, 1717 - 1776 (Paris, France), upon his death, held in trust by the estate.

1776 - 1777

Estate of Louis-François de Bourbon, Prince de Conti, 1717 - 1776 [sold, Conti sale, Rémy, Paris, April 8, 1777, lot 752, to Desmarets.]

1777 -

L.C. Desmarets

- 1845

Prince Pyotr Ivanovitch Tufialkin, died 1845 (Paris, France) [sold, Tufialkin sale, Bonnefons, Paris, May 2, 1845, lot 65.]

- 1892

Private Collection (Paris, France) [sold, Chevallier, Paris, March 25, 1892, lot 53.]

Georges Berger (Paris, France)

- 1928

Private Collection [sold, Paris, March 20, 1928, lot 53, possibly to Wildenstein & Co.]

1928 - 1986

Wildenstein & Company (London, England; New York, New York; Paris, France), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1986.

Exhibitions
Exposition des Paysagistes Vénitiens et Français des XVIIe et XVIIIe Siècles (June 5 to July 5, 1928)
  • Galerie d'Art Sambon, (Paris), June 5 to July 5, 1928, (Cat. 72)
Exposition Hubert Robert (1933)
  • Musée de l'Orangerie, (Paris), 1933, (Cat. 2)
Hubert Robert: The pleasures of ruins (November 15 to December 16, 1988)
  • Wildenstein & Company, (New York), November 15 to December 16, 1988, (Cat. 35)
Dreaming of Italy (March 11 to June 25, 2006)
  • Mauritshuis, (The Hague), March 11 to June 25, 2006, (Cat. 35)
Bibliography

Rémy, Paris. Catalogue des tableaux, desseins, terres-cuites, marbres, bronzes [...] de Monseigneur le Prince de Conty par P. Remy. April 8, 1777, p. 227, lot 752.

"Principales acquisitions des musées en 1986." La Chronique des Arts: supplément à la Gazette des Beaux-Arts 1418 (March 1987), p. 23, no. 141, ill.

Jaffé, David. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997), p. 108, ill.

Sotheby's, New York. Revolution in Art. January 24, 2002, p. 29, under lot 61.