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Palace of the Caesars, Rome / Thomas Moran

Essay/Description

Thomas Moran created at least five sketches of the Palace of the Caesars during his 1867 trip to Italy.1 Here, clouds drift in from the left and move across the sky to suggest the passage of time, while the ancient palace with its crumbling stonework yields to the ravages of the centuries. What perhaps fascinated Moran about the site was the almost organic quality of the buildings, which seem to have sprung spontaneously out of the hillside, only to return to nature upon being abandoned by their human occupants.

The site of these palaces—Rome’s Palatine Hill—offered a panoramic view of the city, and Roman leaders favored the location for their residences. This was where Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, built his home and where subsequent emperors created a complex of palaces, culminating in Emperor Septimius Severus’s project to connect all the structures during his reign (193–211 CE). After Italy was invaded by northern Europeans during the fifth century, the complex was damaged and repaired, but by the sixth century the palaces lay in ruins. During the nineteenth century the ruins became a popular destination for American visitors to Italy.2 Yale professor Benjamin Silliman, visiting in 1851, was astonished by the “complete annihilation of ancient grandeur,” and the American lawyer George Stillman Hillard, who visited in 1853, could not decide whether the site should be thought of as “a landscape or a ruin.”3 Moran’s Palace of the Caesars, Rome effectively captures Hillard’s sentiment, as human monument and nature seem inseparable.

—Sandra Pauly, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Moran Collection Research, 2021

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1 Morand, Thomas Moran: The Field Sketches, 31–32. Including this field sketch, Gilcrease owns five of Moran’s sketches entitled Palace of the Caesars.
2 Oxford Classical Dictionary, 770–71.
3 Silliman, A Visit to Europe in 1851, 1:341. In 1853 Hillard published Six Months in Italy, which became one of the most popular guides to Italy in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century; see Hillard, Six Months in Italy, 1:300.

Curatorial Remarks

This is a reference image scanned from an older transparency.

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Title(s): 
Palace of the Caesars, Rome; Palace of the Cesars, Rome
Creator(s): 
Thomas Moran (Artist)
Culture: 
American
Date: 
February 27, 1867
Period: 
Hudson River School
Materials/Techniques: 
watercolor and graphite with white gouache on paper
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Credit Line: 
Gift of the Thomas Gilcrease Foundation, 1970
Accession No: 
02.941
Previous Number(s): 
1970; 0276.941; 17927
Department: 
Notes in the artist's hand; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "2" in upper left on recto; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "Palace of the Cesars, Rome Feb. 27, 1867" in upper right on recto; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "A5615 #34" in lower left on verso.
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