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Johann Gottfried Benedict Theil

(1745 Friedrichstadt near Dresden – 1797 Dresden)

Il tempio della Sibilla a Tivoli. Pen and black ink, brown wash. 44.6 x 63 cm. Inscribed, signed and dated “Il tempio della Sibilla a Tivoli. / J. B. Theill del. 1780.” in the artist’s own hand.

The Roman Temple of Sybil in Tivoli, erected in the second century BC, was one of the most popular destinations for artists and travellers on the Grand Tour. They included the Dresden-born theatrical and architectural painter, Johann Gottfried Theil, who first travelled around Italy between 1779 and 1781 thanks to the patronage of the Elector of Saxony, Friedrich August III. It was at this time that he produced the present carefully executed veduta of the ancient round temple and its picturesque surroundings. The gracious structure, illuminated by bright sunlight entering from the top right, stands out clearly against the dark background. A few staffage figures have gather­­ed on the terrace in front of the ancient temple. The artist has meticulously captured details such as the Corinthian capitals and the architrave with its bucrania and garland frieze and enhanced the three-dimensional effect of the round temple with the help of fine brush washes. Theil, who specialised in the depiction of representative buildings, halls, grottoes and theatrical decorations, was completely in his element here.

Johann Gottfried Theil was initially taught by his father, Johann Benedikt, and trained at the academy in the latter’s native city of Bayreuth before studying under the court theatrical painter, Johann Benjamin Müller, in Dresden. In the 1770s he tried his hand for the first time at wall painting and etching. During his stay in Italy Theil made a close study of perspective and landscape painting. Several of his drawings he made while travelling Italy have survived and are now in the Kupferstichkabinett of Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. After return­ing home, Theil first spent several years working as a painter at the Meißen porcelain manufactory before taking up an appointment as professor of theatrical perspective at the Dresden Academy of Art in 1782. He was also active as a theatrical and fresco painter and produced decorative paintings for the Japanese Palace, the Catholic Court Church and the Grand Opera House in Dresden. From the collection of Benjamin Wolff (1790 Copenhagen – 1866 Engelholm, Lugt 420).

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