Hubert Robert

(b. Paris, France 1733 – d. Paris, France 1808)

Blending fantasy and factual accuracy, Hubert Robert's views of classical and contemporary architecture were immensely popular during his lifetime. Robert's fascination with the ruins of Roman antiquity stemmed from his sojourn in Rome between 1754 and 1765. The painter Charles-Joseph Natoire remarked on his arrival that he had 'a taste for architecture', and indeed Robert's exposure to the monuments of antiquity were to provide a lifelong artistic inspiration, earning him the nickname 'Robert des ruines' also echoing what Diderot called the 'poétique des ruines'.

His paintings also testify of the development of the Enlightenments concepts such as the distinction between nature and culture such as defined by Rousseau. He even designed his original mausoleum in the philosophical garden of Ermenonville.

In scenes such as this Robert reveals his debt to the engravings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi as well as the architectural capricci of the Italian painter Gian Paolo Panini. The huge romanticized colonnades of Corinthian columns, sometimes shown with a barreled vault or left open to the sky as here, recur frequently in Robert's works on this theme and were inspired by the monuments of ancient Rome. These colonnades were frequently graced with famous examples of classical statuary; in this instance the soldiers gamble beneath the statue of the Apollo Belvedere then as now in the Vatican and one of the classical works most admired by the Enlightenment, while beyond can be seen a headless copy of the equally famous Aphrodite of Cnidus, of which several copies or variants were in Rome. The composition strongly recalls one of Robert's most famous designs, the Imaginary view of the Grand Gallery of the Louvre in ruins, exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1796 and today in the Louvre, in which an artist sits sketching beneath the Apollo Belvedere while other figures walk among and ponder on other fragments of classical and Renaissance statuary.