Art Fund grant for painting by Elgin Marbles artist

  • 8 March 2007

The Art Fund has helped the National Gallery of Scotland to purchase the only known oil painting by the Italian landscape painter Giovanni Battista Lusieri.

The Monument to Philopappos, Athens (c 1805-7) is an outstanding painting of the semi-ruined Roman funerary monument on Mouseion Hill in Athens. The painting was purchased for £300,000, with a £100,000 grant from The Art Fund.

Giovanni Battista Lusieri (c 1755-1821) had close connections with Scotland through two important long-term patrons – the Scottish antiquarian, archaeologist and British Ambassador to the court of Naples, Sir William Hamilton; and Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, the Scottish diplomat and collector who is best known for the removal of marble sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens - popularly known as the ‘Elgin Marbles’.

Lusieri became the Earl of Elgin’s official artist in the late 1790s, during Elgin’s embassy in Constantinople (now Istanbul). When the Earl of Elgin was granted permission to remove objects from the Acropolis in the early 1800s, Lusieri was appointed his chief excavator and was responsible for collecting many sculptures and inscriptions from the Acropolis, as well as slabs of the Parthenon frieze which are today housed in the British Museum.

Lusieri’s Monument to Philopappos, Athens was made just as his work on the Acropolis was drawing to a close. Lusieri had an enduring fascination with the monument, and he made at least three other watercolours and drawings of it. The ancient monument was erected in 114-116AD in memory of Gaius Julius Antiochos Epiphanes Philopappos, who was consul of Athens in 190AD.

Lusieri’s painting is an outstanding technical accomplishment, and his rendering of the monument in painstaking detail is an echo of the five years he spent meticulously drawing, documenting and excavating objects from the Acropolis. The monument survives in an almost identical form today, allowing Lusieri’s astonishing accuracy to be understood and appreciated two hundred years after he completed the painting.

Lusieri lived in Athens for 21 years, but The Monument to Philopappos, Athens is one of only a handful of works to have survived from this period – most of them were tragically lost in 1828 when the ship transporting them to Britain sank in the Mediterranean.

Related Links:

National Gallery of Scotland