Hubert Robert was a French painter best known for his capriccios, picturesque architectural fantasies often depicting real and imagined structures in ruins. One of the most popular examples of this genre is his ‘Imaginary view of the Gallery of the Louvre as a Ruin,’ which actually hangs in the Louvre itself.
Visually these imaginative 18th century capriccios could be considered a precursor to 20th century Cyber-punk dystopias. Speaking for myself, Robert’s ruins carry a mystique similar to that of the crowded cityscapes featured in the film ‘Blade Runner.’
As a Chicagoan I must also add that the Art Institute of Chicago has four large scale capriccios by Robert—‘The Old Temple,’ ‘The Obelisk,’ ‘The Landing Place,’ and ‘The Fountains’—which create an imposing spectacle when exhibited together in a single gallery with one at each corner.
Like his painting of the Louvre, I assume that today’s selection, ‘Stable in Ruins of the Villa Giulia,’ was another capriccio depicting a popular, existing structure in battered condition. I have little information about the Villa Giulia, a 16th century building in Rome which now operates as the National Etruscan Museum, and I don’t believe a throughout historical knowledge of the villa is necessary to appreciate the timeless quality of this piece. As seen here, this elaborate work of architecture, a sign of wealth and prestige, now serves these common peasants as a stable—obviously not the building’s intended purpose. Either way, they’ve made good use of the hall, constructing hayracks and rounding up their livestock behind those wooden gates fixed up against the columns. That long ladder adds a nice touch to this scene as well.
Robert's 'Stable' encourages me to consider how man-made spaces change over time, sometimes dramatically, as is the case here. I get the impression these peasants happened upon this abandoned structure and then simply adapted it for their purposes. They’ve completely taken over the villa, humbly utilizing every nook and cranny available. In spite of their residency, this building maintains its majesty through Robert’s elegant use of light. I like to believe that this light is the artist's personal voice, and that through this voice he's offering his approval of this grand villa's imaginary fate.
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