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Sir Sampson Gideon and an unidentified companion

Pompeo Batoni1767

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne, Australia

Pompeo Batoni’s painting of Sir Sampson Gideon and an unidentified companion is one of the artist’s finest portraits of an English visitor to Rome and is a quintessential document of the taste associated with the ‘Grand Tour’ – the tour of the cultural sites of the Continent that was regarded as de rigueur for wealthy young Englishmen in the eighteenth century. Batoni can be said to have brought the genre of the Grand Tour portrait to a new level of sophistication and he was indisputably the most fashionable and sought-after portrait painter in Rome between the 1750s and the 1770s, the period when the Grand Tour as a cultural phenomenon reached its apogee. Anthony M. Clark’s 1985 catalogue raisonné of Batoni’s oeuvre records that, in the decade 1750–60 alone, the artist produced nearly sixty portraits of British sitters.

The identification of the precise subject of this painting remains unresolved. The seated figure is Sir Sampson Gideon (1745–1824), the son of an exceptionally wealthy financier of Portuguese origin. Sir Sampson visited Rome in 1766, and the evidence suggests that this picture, dated 1767, was completed after his return to England. He is depicted showing a portrait miniature to his companion. It can be presumed that the miniature represents Sir Sampson’s wife, Maria (the daughter of Sir John Eardley-Wilmot of Belvedere in Kent), whom he married in December 1766. Gideon later assumed his wife’s family name, and was created Lord Eardley in 1789. His elegant companion in the National Gallery of Victoria’s painting remains unidentified. An old inscription on the letter in Sir Sampson’s left hand read lord eardly and his tutor signor basti, but this identification is clearly incorrect (the inscription was not by Batoni’s own hand and was removed when the painting was cleaned in 1963). The sumptuously dressed figure on the left, whose confident pose suggests high rank, cannot be a tutor, and this assumption can perhaps be supported by the fact that more than one contemporary observer commented upon Sir Sampson’s obsession with rank and status.

The picture reflects in every way the Rome experienced by the eighteenth-century ‘Grand Tourist’. The Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, included in the background, was one of the most admired of all Roman monuments, and the copy of the bust of the Giustiniani Minerva, by then in the Vatican collections, reappears in several other Grand Tour portraits by Batoni and was probably a studio prop. The whippet hound is a charming inclusion and it is recorded that some travelling Englishmen took their favourite dogs with them to Italy. The splendid costumes worn by both sitters are particularly notable. We know from many period accounts that one of the first priorities of English visitors to Rome was the acquisition of fashionable new clothes, and the stylishness of the Italian dress would not have been lost on contemporary British viewers of this picture.

Text by Dr Gerard Vaughan from Painting and sculpture before 1800 in the international collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 108

Details

  • Title: Sir Sampson Gideon and an unidentified companion
  • Creator: Pompeo Batoni
  • Creator Lifespan: 25 January 1708 - 04 February 1787
  • Creator Nationality: Italian
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: Rome, Italy
  • Creator Birth Place: Lucca, Italy
  • Date Created: 1767
  • Physical Dimensions: 275.6 x 189.0 cm (Unframed)
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Everard Studley Miller Bequest, 1963, © National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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