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Sir James Thornhill, 1675–1734, British
Design for Ceiling Walls and Staircase
between 1712 and 1713
Pen and brown ink, gray wash, brown wash and graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper
Sheet: 15 1/4 x 19 5/8 inches (38.7 x 49.8 cm)

Inscribed in pen and brown ink, upper right: "Gratitude ye Principal figure, crownd by Peace, & over, wch Providence| particularly presides| Industry, leaning on a Bee hive attended by Plenty & holding a plan or | upright For St George.| Fame soudning ye praise of Gratitude. & Industry"; in graphite, upper center: "19 - 4"; in pen and brown ink lower center: "127 [...] | (sequential numbers from 1 to 20)"; in pen and brown ink lower left: "Syllas Triumph, is followd by ye Citizens &c. wth loud | acclamation, in that he has redeemd them from Slavery"; in pen and ink lower center: "Sylla gratefully offers ye 10th of all his Spoyls | to Hercules"; in pen and brown ink lower right: "The Roman People, Ladys &c. strive to adorn ye | [...] of Sylla"; in pen and brown ink, lower center: "Thos Pitt"; inscribed on back: extensive notes in pen and brown ink and in graphite

Signed in graphite, lower right: "Sir Jas Thornhill"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
architectural subject | chariot | children | horse (animal) | men | nude | staircase | women
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
Note: As a COVID-19 precaution, the Study Room is closed until further notice.
Curatorial Comment:
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As History Painter in Ordinary to King George I, Sir James Thornhill catered to the baroque taste for large and illusionistic decorative schemes, and he received many important commissions for the adornment of royal palaces. He also extended his services to wealthy private citizens, as indicated by this design for Thomas Pitt. Known as "Diamond Pitt" for his mercantile exploits in India, he was eventually appointed Governor of Madras at Fort St. George. He returned to England in 1710 and used his wealth to remodel his many residences, including his favorite, Swallowfield Park in Berkshire. Thornhill devised this decorative scheme depicting events from the life of the Roman General Lucius Sulla for a stairwell in one of Pitt's homes, probably Swallowfiled Park. Sulla, the victor of the first Roman civil war in the first century B.C., appointed himself dictator to enact constitutional reforms and strengthen the waning Roman republic. It is tempting to connect the figure of the victorious Sulla, her a benign victor who releases his people from slavery and distributes his wealth , with that of Pitt, as Thornhill has included a drawing of Pitt's Indian post, Fort St. George, in the hands of Industry on the ceiling. In depicting his plan, Thornhill uses the convention of architectural drawing known as "the laid out wall elevation," whereby the ceiling is depicted as above the walls, which are "ironed out" to appear as one continuous wall space.
--Morna O'Neill,2001-05
Exhibition History:
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The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-05-19 - 2001-08-05)

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)

Connections (Yale Center for British Art, 2011-05-26 - 2011-09-11)

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