The fact that a building in the Albano hills above Rome has been known since the 18th century as the ‘so called’ mausoleum of the Horatii and Curiatii speaks volumes: it was in fact constructed on the Appian Way centuries after the legendary rival Horatii and Curiatii triplets are said to have battled for their pride and people. But the legend and the sham sepulchre must have made an impression: back home in England it inspired at least three monuments in landscape gardens.
To quickly summarise the story told by the Roman historian Livy: the Horatii (from Rome) and Curiatti (from Alba Longa) families each had triplets. With their respective cities at war it was decided that rather than lose whole armies, the two sets of boys would instead settle the two communities differences with a fight to the death. Rome were the victors, with only one brother surviving the battle. It’s not clear when this monument became associated with the triplets, but the legend was certainly told to the many Grand Tourists who passed along the Appian Way in the 18th century. The Duke of Buckingham and Chandos saw it in the early 19th century and noted that there ‘seems great reason to doubt it being rightly called’, but felt that nonetheless it had an ‘imposing air’.
These visitors brought home sketches, watercolours (professional and amateur) and engravings which circulated amongst their friends and family on their return.
Three people in particular took notice: Sir William Morice at Werrington in Cornwall, Norborne Berkeley, 4th Baron Botetourt at Stoke Park near Bristol, and John Aislabie at Studley in Yorkshire. Each of these men built structures on their estates that took inspiration from the monument, and contemporary visitors recognised the tomb of the Horatii and Curiatti as the source of the design.
The earliest ‘copy’ of the monument was that at Werrington Park, near Launceston in Cornwall. It was probably built after Sir William Morice of Werrington returned from his Grand Tour, which had included a stay in Rome, in 1730. It is shown in this undated portrait of Morice, but as he died in 1750 it was clearly extant at that date. The itinerant Bishop Pococke confirmed that it was based on the monument in Rome: he described it as a ‘model of what is called the Tomb of the Horatii’, although he gives no further information. The forward-thinking Victorians were less-impressed with such ‘pseudo-antiquities of the type of which the 18th century was fond’, but after this dismissal Sir Alfred Robbins’s history of the Launceston area does at least confirm that by 1888 the building was known as the ‘Sugar Loaves’ on account of the three conical pinnacles. When Barbara Jones saw it in the middle of the 20th century it was still in pretty good condition, but what was once both eye-catcher and viewpoint is now lost in undergrowth, and little survives today.
It was probably in the second half of the 1750s that John Aislabie, of Studley Royal in North Yorkshire, built his version of the tomb. There’s no record of Aislabie having made a Grand Tour, and instead he took his inspiration from a plate in Montfaucon’s L’antiquité expliquée, which had been published in 1719 (with an English translation appearing in 1722).
At Studley too a visitor confirms the inspiration as ‘the remains of the Monument erected to the memory of the Horatii’, although Aislabie’s version was known simply as the ‘Roman Monument’. Being a pragmatic Yorkshireman, Aislabie built the base as a summerhouse for refreshments and for admiring the view to his Octagon Temple across the valley. The 5 rooftop pinnacles survived until at least the middle of the 19th century, but there is no trace of them on site today, and without them the little building has lost its meaning and impact.
In the first years of the 1760s Norborne Berkeley, Lord Botetourt, who had been in Rome in the 1730s, erected a version of the monument at Stoke Park, near Bristol. The design was drawn up by his polymath friend Thomas Wright. This too was recognised by Bishop Pococke: he visited in 1764 and saw a ‘model of the Monument of the Horati, at Albano’. Pococke’s description of an arched building with four pediments and a frieze topped with four obelisks sounds considerably more elaborate than the original, probably because it also functioned as an eye-catcher from the mansion.
The building was already a ruin a century ago, before collapsing completely, and until recently was largely forgotten. Bristol City Council, current owner of the park, hopes to fully restore the building when funds allow, and some work has been completed. But for now one needs to use one’s imagination.
P.S. The Folly Flâneuse has been indulging in a little armchair travel this week. In her mind she has been transported to Brussels, where an exhibition on Belgian Follies has just opened. Featuring architectural drawings, plans of landscape parks, watercolours, engravings, and photographs, the show encourages the visitor to escape for a moment from the ‘turpitudes of the world’ and immerse oneself in follies. The Folly Flâneuse was happy to oblige, albeit virtually, and thanks to curator Michel Mathy can give a sneak preview here.
Of the many works in the exhibition, this view of the picturesque Vignou Tower in the grounds of the château d’Attre, in the Belgian province of Hainaut, really appealed. It was beautifully painted by Marie-Thérèse du Toict, whose family seat the château was in the early 19th century. Two further views of the estate by Marie-Thérèse are also in the show, as are this 18th century design for a garden pavilion and photograph of a charming Chinoiserie kiosk:
If you are lucky enough to be able to visit, please report back. If not, you can read more about the exhibition, and watch a folly-filled film (in French, with Flemish subtitles, but visually lovely even if you don’t know the languages) here https://civa.brussels/fr/expos-events/belgian-follies
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