Romantic Circles Gallery
View in the Roman Forum (The Temple of Peace)


Cutting a nearly perfect diagonal across the picture plane from the top left corner, the ruins of the Temple of Peace, or Basilica of Maxentius, loom large on the canvas, casting a shadow on the groups of peasants and ghosts that have gathered at the foot of the ruin. The elaborately carved insides of the arches are visible, creating an interesting juxtaposition with the various weeds and thick brush that have grown on the Temple’s roof. In the shadow of the Temple a woman sits on a piece of the ruin, watching a group of three men who are standing before a donkey. Two of the men appear to be merchants trying to sell their wares to the third man, who is dressed in the guise of a traveler and is carrying a large staff. To the right of this group, standing directly behind the traveler and reaching out a hand to touch him, is a woman carrying a large bundle. A man, carrying an object shaped like a rifle on his shoulder, stands between and slightly behind these two groups. He is followed by a small dog. To the left of him are two—or perhaps three—women in veils. To the right, beyond the shadow that encompasses the people, several trees and what appears to be the side of the Coliseum can be seen in the distance.

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Bought by Paul Mellon in 1977 from Somerville and Simpson (Wilcox, et. al 123)
1981: Classic Ground, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, no. 62

1985: The Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, London

2001: The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, no. 102
Signed and dated in watercolor, lower right: "DuCros 1779"
Ducros, a Swiss watercolorist, traveled to study and work in Rome in 1776 and stayed in Italy for the next 30 years. His experience included work as a topographical draftsman in southern Italy and a venture with Giovanni Battista Volpato, who made engravings of the watercolors Ducros produced. While in Italy, he refined his view of monuments and the topographical accuracy of his images, learning from Giuseppe Vasi and Francesco Pannini. He experimented with Piranesi’s wide-vista techniques and worked on depicting architecture and ruins in a new context. His work included large watercolors of ancient ruins, and he gained a measure of success among British tourists. Richard Colt Hoare, a British client who eventually acquired many Ducros watercolors, believed that Ducros had a profound influence upon British watercolorists. He wrote in 1822 that
The advancement from drawing to painting in water-colors did not take place till after the introduction into England of the drawings of Louis du Cros, a Swiss artist who settled in Rome. His works proved the force as well as the consequence that could be given to the unsubstantial body of water-colours, and to him I attribute the first knowledge and power of watercolours. Hence we have sprung a numerous succession of Artists in this line. (Wilcox 123-24)
Since Mr. Hoare was also a patron of J.M.W Turner, it is probable that Ducros had a direct influence on Turner’s artistic approach in the early years of the nineteenth century (Wilcox 123-24).
The Basilica Nova of Maxentius

The “New” Basilica was also known as the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, as it was begun by Maxentius (emperor from 306 to 312) and completed by his conqueror, Constantine the Great. This gigantic edifice was a rectangle terminating at the northwest and northeast apses, of which only the latter survives. It was divided, on both its long and its short axes, into a nave and two aisles: there was a long nave and a short one, each with flanking aisles. Four large piers divided the naves from the aisles in the open hall. Corinthian columns, forty-seven feet high and made of creamy, red-veined marble from the Sea of Marmora, stood in front of the piers. Three arches, eighty feet high and sixty-seven feet across, still stand (Grant 46).

The Temple of Peace

The Temple of Peace was erected by Vespasian and was originally believed to have been destroyed by fire during the reign of Commodus. However, nineteenth-century historians challenged this view, contending that the ruins alleged to be the Temple of Peace were in fact those of the Basilica erected by Maxentius at a much later date. This hypothesis was confirmed by the discovery of a medal of Maxentius in a fragment of the ruins that fell in 1847. There is also a passage by the Byzantine historian Procopius which suggests that the ruins of the Temple of Peace were still visible during his lifetime (the early-mid sixth century), long after the construction of the Basilica of Maxentius; this textual evidence disproves the popular belief that the later edifice was built upon the ruins of Vespasian’s Temple (Bunbury 128).
According to Sophie Thomas’s conceptualization of early travel painting, Louis-Rodolphe Ducros’s View in the Roman Forum (The Temple of Peace) (1779) is a very typical print. The juxtaposition of the “present”—embodied by the figures of the peasants—and the "past"—suggested by the glimpse of the Coliseum—fits Thomas’s conceptualization of Rome as a “virtual” city for the Romantic beholder, one that could be seen as a “ ‘place’ hovering in disconcerting and at times imaginary ways between the present and the past” (Thomas 68). The intersection of the visible and the invisible, the material and the immaterial, came to the forefront as tourists gazed at the ruins of a pagan and a Christian past surrounded by the "modern" metropolis. The liminality of the site with regard to religious significance is particularly relevant as the Temple of Peace is simultaneously a pagan and Christian site, being associated both with Maxentius, the last pagan emperor of Rome, and Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor. Thomas locates the travelers’ disorientation when confronted with the multiple pasts of Rome in the common “resistance on the part of the travelers to seeing ‘modern’ Rome as it is (or was), preferring instead to perceive the city through the suggestive remnants of its ancient forms” (68). Despite viewers’ resistence to see the city in its modern state, Ducros’s print seems to adhere to Gilpin’s call for picturesque tourism to be centered around the “searching after effects”: here, the effect of the present merging with the past, the visible with the invisible.

Ruin. Picturesque. Historical consciousness. History. Place. Tourism. Travel. Religion. Pagan. Italian art. European Romanticism.

Ducros’s painting, View in the Roman Forum (The Temple of Peace), is significant due to its place in the burgeoning genre of travel painting during the Romantic era. According to Scott Wilcox, Ducros gained popularity among British and European tourists during his time in Rome, joining an already growing community of British and Northern European artists who had traveled to Rome to try their hand in the tourist trade (Wilcox 123-24). Ducros’s success is significant not only because it points to the rapid growth of tourism during the Romantic period, but also because it indicates that this new tourism was intricately linked to the viewing of ancient or historical scenes through the lens of the artistic eye. If, once they returned home, European and British tourists were relying on artistic renderings to recall those ruins they had experienced first-hand, there seems to be an implied assumption that only the artistic eye can capture the true essence of such scenes.

Louis Ducros “specialized in large-scale watercolor views of ancient Rome,” and his illustration of the remains of the Temple of Peace demonstrates the interest in ruins, including those of foreign origin, which developed during the Romantic era (McInnis 70). The Roman Empire was famous for its strength and longevity, as well as for its rich culture and history. However, the depiction of these prestigious buildings in a state of ruin—now the mere remnants of the Roman Forum—produces an interesting effect. The buildings are in not their original state of glory; and yet, for the Romantic viewer who can only try to imagine the greatness and prestige they embodied when still intact, these ruinous buildings still evoke a sense of awe. The ruins invite the viewer to recreate history in their imagination (Gingsberg 325). This has a sublime effect on the enchanted viewer: she can never fully grasp the complete magnificence of the structure, but must forever rely on the mere traces of that magnificence as manifested in the remnants of the past. The trend of popular interest in ruins was an integral component of the Romantic aesthetic, which, like The Temple of Peace, mixed strong, evocative emotions with a nostalgic connection to the past. [M.S.]
Wilcox, Scott, et. al. The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 2001. Print.

Ducros, Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe. Images of the Grand Tour: Louis Ducros, 1748-1810. Geneva: Editions du Tricorne, 1985. Print.

Bowron, Edgar Peters and Joseph J. Rishel. Art in Rome: In the Eighteenth Century. London: Merrell, 2000. Print.

Grant, Michael. The Roman Forum. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970. Print.

Bunbury, E.H. “X. on the Topography of Rome.” Classical Museum: A Journal of Philology, and of Ancient History and Literature 4 (January 1847): 117-134. Print.

Gingsberg, Robert. Aesthetics of Ruins. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004. Print.

McInnis, Maurie D. In Pursuit of Refinement: Charlestonians Abroad, 1740-1860. Comp. Angela D. Mack. Columbia: University of South Carolina P, 1999. Print.

"Ducros, Louis." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford UP, 2007-2013. Web. Apr. 2009.
Ducros, Abraham Louis Rodolphe. View in the Roman Forum (The Temple of Peace). 1779. Watercolor with pen and black ink over graphite on laid paper. 20 7/8 x 29 1/8 in. (53.0 x 74 cm). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. B1977.14.141