Artwork Detail

Aqueduct near Rome
American, b. England, 1801–1848
Oil on canvas
44 1/2 x 67 5/16 "
University purchase, Bixby Fund, by exchange, 1987
WU 1987.4
Known as the father of the Hudson River school of American landscape painting, Thomas Cole created ambitious allegorical landscapes that incorporate figures and symbols to convey moralizing meanings. Aqueduct near Rome is based on sketches of ancient Roman aqueducts that Cole made while traveling in Italy. A meditation on the course of civilization, Cole’s depiction of these ruins symbolizes the rise and fall of an empire, a theme of some of Cole’s most celebrated works. On the left a medieval watchtower, the Tor Fiscale, anchors the composition, while the sweeping arcade of the crumbling watercourse recedes to the far right edge of the painting, the Sabine Hills and Mount Albano on the horizon behind. In the foreground a skull suggests the end to which all life comes, bringing a mood of melancholy to the adjacent pastoral scene of a diminutive shepherd with his dog and a flock of goats. Cole’s careful and deliberate composition suggests a warning about the historical cycle of imperial decadence and destruction and an urging to his young country to avoid a similar fate. [Permanent collection label, 2017]