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Fountain of the Villa Medici

Attributed to James Anderson
Fountain of the Villa Medici, c.1865
Albumen silver print
27.4 x 40.4 cm
Purchased 2001

In Fountain of the Villa Medici, the photographer has taken particular care to emphasize the broad masses of dark foliage and the deep pools of shadow cast by the trees that flank the oval basin of a fountain. Through the natural arch created by the two trees, St. Peter's Basilica and the surrounding buildings of Rome shimmer in the distance, in delicate contrast to the silhouetted heavier forms of the fountain in the foreground. According to one legend, the sixteenth-century fountain incorporated a cannon ball that Queen Christina of Sweden had fired, without any apparent provocation, onto the Pincio hill from the Castel Sant'Angelo in 1655. The nearly perfect balance of the composition, with the sphere in the centre through which water gushes, is echoed by the celebrated dome, made famous by Corot in his painting Fountain of the French Academy, Rome (1826–1828). The view had been a popular subject of paintings by many other artists including Valenciennes, Michallon, and Goethe.

Recalling his visit to Rome in the mid-nineteenth century, the American travel writer George Hillard acknowledged the fountain's appeal: "It is an attractive sight, not merely from its good proportions and unpretending simplicity, but from its fine position and its harmony with the objects around it. The view of St. Peter's over its flowing and restless waters, though not set down in the guidebooks, is well worth a long and patient look."

The photograph is attributed to James Anderson partly owing to his reputation as a photographer of Roman sites and antiquities and also because he made similar views of the same subject. Born Isaac Atkinson to British parents, Anderson studied to be a painter, later adopting William Nugent Dunbar as a pseudonym. He changed his name to James Anderson when he moved to Rome in the 1830s and began exhibiting his paintings. Turning to the new art of photography and taking advantage of the burgeoning tourist industry, he quickly established himself in the city as a photographer and began selling his photographs around 1849. His photographic firm, founded in 1853, was taken over by his eldest son, Domenico, and eventually by his grandsons. The business was finally closed in the 1950s, and the prints and negatives became part of the Alinari archive in Florence.