The Temples of Vesta and of the Sybil in Tivoli: poets’ and painters’ passion

Claude Gellée Lorrain,

Claude Lorrain, "Landscape with Temple of Sybil in Tivoli", 1635, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Here are the Temple of Vesta – a famous symbol of Tivoli, Lazio – and the nearby Temple of the Sybil. The former has a round layout and the latter a rectangular one, but both were built around the 2nd century BC and both inspired a number of paintings, especially since the 17th century.

This is how French Romantic writer François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) described his stay in Tivoli to one of his friends:
Returning to my room, I found again the solitude I had left outside. The little terrace, belonging to the inn led to the Temple of Vesta. Painters know that patina of the centuries that time applies to old monuments, which varies with climate: it is there in the Temple of Vesta. You can make the circuit of the little building between the ‘peristyle’ and the ‘cella’, in sixty paces. The true Temple of the Sybil is distinguished from this one by its square shape and the severe style of its architecture.

He then goes on to add: All the Latin poets who visited Tibur (Tivoli) wept on considering the brevity of life. ‘Carpe diem’: seize the day, cried Horace (‘Odes’ I:11); ‘Te spectem suprema mihi cum venerit hora’: Let me gaze on you, when my last hour has come, exclaimed Tibullus (I.1:59). Virgil (‘Georgics’ IV:494) depicts the last hour so: ‘Invalidasque tibi tendens, heu! non tua palmas’: stretching out to you, alas, hands no longer yours. Who has not lost some object of his affections? Who has not seen helpless arms extended toward him?

Let the words of the ancient poets be a wonderful introduction to the lines and colors used by the artists who fell in love with Tivoli.

October 22, 2015

The Temples of Vesta and of the Sybil in Tivoli: poets’ and painters’ passion

Tivoli (Rm)