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Q and Art: Torre di Schiavi
August 19, 2015


This post is part of an ongoing series on Eye Level: Q and Art, where American Art's Research department brings you interesting questions and answers about art and artists from our archive. If you enjoy this post, take a look at others in our series.

Hotchkiss

Thomas Hotchkiss's Torre di Schiavi

Question: I enjoyed seeing the Thomas Hotchkiss painting Torre di Schiavi at SAAM. Does the painting show a real place that I would recognize if I visited, or is the scene from the artist's imagination?

Answer: Yes, Hotchkiss' painting depicts a real place that is open to visitors. Torre di Schiavi is the 19th century name for the ruins of a large villa said to be built by the Imperial Gordian family, which lived during the third century. An internet search for Villa dei Gordiani will find current and historical images of the site.

Located in the Campagna (the countryside surrounding Rome), the villa consisted of the mausoleum painted by Hotchkiss, luxurious baths and a large colonnade with three structures. In later centuries the mausoleum was used as a Christian church, faded frescoes depicting saints could be in Hotchkiss's time. Near the end of the Roman Empire the remains of the bath were converted to a military watch tower. A few artists visited the ruins in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but the site was largely ignored until archeological investigations began in the nineteenth century. Today the ruins are preserved within an archaeological park.

Ruins Villa Gordiani

By Alessandro Zangrilli, via Wikimedia Commons

While the mausoleum ruins look remarkably the same one hundred fifty years later, one aspect of Hotchkiss' composition that has changed is the emptiness of the landscape. Today, communities populate the Campagna, and commuter trams move people between the suburbs and the city. However, in the 1800s many visitors noted the distinct line between Rome and the Campagna. Outside the city gates the uncultivated countryside held very few inhabitants. One of Hotchkiss' neighbors in Rome, American sculptor William Wetmore Story poetically described a journey through the Campagna: "The country now grows wild, desolate, and lonely; but it has a special charm all its own. . . .It is dreary, weird, ghostly, —the home the winds; but its silence, sadness, and solitude are both soothing and impressive." The beauty mixed with melancholy and a sense of risk drew many artists out of the city. Despite the modernization of the landscape, artists continue to find inspiration in the Campagna. For more recent artworks depicting the area check your local library or used bookstore for American photographer Joel Sternfeld's book Campagna Romana.

To learn more about Thomas Hotchkiss and Torre di Schiavi, look for the following article and book: Charles Eldredge, "Torre dei Schiavi: Monument and Metaphor" in Smithsonian Studies in American Art, vol. 1 no. 2 (Fall 1987), pp. 14-33 and Barbara Novak, Dreams and Shadows: Thomas H. Hotchkiss in Nineteenth-Century Italy.

Posted by Alida on August 19, 2015 in American Art Here, Q and Art


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