Shortly before 1722, Owen McSwiny, a bankrupt Irishman who had settled in Italy to escape his creditors, commissioned twenty-four large canvases from prominent Venetian and Bolognese painters as a commercial venture. By profession a theater impresario, he concocted this series of allegorical monuments commemorating recently deceased British monarchs and aristocrats, hoping that their wealthy heirs might purchase the works. McSwiny's "Tombs," as they came to be called, proved to be unintelligible; no one, not even the artists who painted them, ever had a clear notion of what the pictures represented.
This ornate and fanciful memorial, for example, alludes only vaguely to the subject's naval career. The admiral himself does not appear, nor does the shield in the right foreground bear his exact coat-of-arms. Only the fountain hints at the maritime theme with its ancient ships' prows and rudders, statues of tritons riding dolphins, and a bas-relief of Neptune, god of the sea.
The Shovell canvas is a collaboration by Marco Ricci, who contributed the picturesque landscape and theatrical architecture, and his uncle Sebastiano Ricci, who painted the figures and statuary. The two Riccis' use of fluffy textures and decorative colors marks the emerging rococo style.
lower left on stone: B. / M. RICCI / Faciebant (Bastianoand Marco Ricci made it)
Commissioned by Owen McSwiny for Charles Lennox, 2d duke of Richmond [1701-1750], Goodwood, Sussex, and Somerset House, London, by 1726; by descent to Charles Lennox, 4th duke of Richmond [1764-1819]; (his sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 26 March 1814, no. 48); bought by P. Hill. Sir Richard Colthurst, Cork, Ireland. (David M. Koetser Gallery, New York, London, and Zurich); purchased 1953 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1961 to NGA.
- The Glory of Venice: Art in the Eighteenth Century, Royal Academy of Arts, London; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Museo del Settecento Veneziano - Ca'Rezzonico, Venice, 1994-1995, no. 37 (London and Washington), no. 7 (Venice), repro.
- Voss, Hermann. "Studien zur venezianischen Vedutenmalerei des 18. Jahrhunderts." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft (1926): 37.
- Arslan, Wart. "Appunti su Magnasco, Sebastiano e Marco Ricci." Bollettino d'Arte 26 (1932): 217-218.
- Pallucchini, Rodolfo. "Studi Ricceschi (II) Contributo a Marco." Arte Veneta 9 (1955): 192, 194-196, fig. 225.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Colllection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 148-151, no. 58, repro.
- Blunt, Anthony, and Edward Croft-Murray. Venetian Drawings of the XVII & XVIII Centuries at Windsor Castle. London, 1957: 31.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 231, repro.
- Pallucchini 1960, 40, fig. 100.
- Walker, John, Guy Emerson, and Charles Seymour. Art Treasures for America: An Anthology of Paintings & Sculpture in the Samuel H. Kress Collection. London, 1961:, 158, repro. pl. 150, color repro. pl. 151
- Boyce, Benjamin. "Baroque into Satire: Pope's Frontispiece for the 'Essay on Man'." Criticism 4 (1962): 23, 25, fig. 10.
- Croft-Murray, Edward. Decorative Painting in England 1587-1837. 2 vols. London, 1962; Feltham, 1970: 2:24, 241, no. 21.
- Haskell, Francis. Patrons and Painters. London, 1963: 289 (2nd ed., 1985).
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 115.
- Burda, Hubert. Die Ruine in den Bildern Hubert Roberts. Munich, 1967: 35.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 102, repro.
- Jaffé, Michael. European Fame of Sir Isaac Newton. Exh. cat. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 1973: 14.
- Kaufmann, C. M. Victoria and Albert Museum, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings. 2 vols. London, 1973: 1:239.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI-XVIII Century. London, 1973: 131-133, fig. 259-260.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 306, repro.
- Daniels, Jeffery. L'opera completa di Sebastiano Ricci. Milan, 1976: 127, no. 426, repro.
- Daniels, Jeffery. Sebastiano Ricci. Hove, 1976: 153-154, no. 531, fig. 55.
- Daniels, Jeffery. "Sebastiano Ricci in England." Atti del Congress internazionale di studi su Sebastiano Ricci e il suo tempo. Milan, 1976.
- Mazza, Barbara. "La viecenda dei 'Tombeaux des Princes': Matrici, storia e fortuna della serie Swiny tra Bologna e Venezia." Saggi e Memorie di Storia dell'Arte 10 (1976): 90-91, no. 3, fig. 7.
- Works by Sebastiano Ricci from British Collections. Exh. cat. P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., Ltd., London, 1978: unpaginated, no. 21, fig. 21a.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:402-406, II:pl. 286, 286A.
- Knox, George. "The Tombs of Famous Englishmen as Described in the Letters of Owen McSwiny to the Duke of Richmond." Arte Veneta 27 (1983): 231, no. 4.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 345, no 473, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 352, repro.
- Adolphs, Volker. "Der Impressario als Auftraggeber. Owen McSwiny und die 'Tombeaux des Princes grand capitaines et autres illustres." In Venedigs Ruhm im Norden. Exh. cat. (2 venues). Hannover, 1991: 43, 48-49, 51, fig. 13.
- Scarpa Sonino, Annalisa. Marco Ricci. Milan, 1991: 34, 137, no. 112, fig. 312, color pl. 33.
- Knox, George. Giovanni Piazzetta 1682-1754. Oxford, 1992: 176, fig. 125.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 114, repro. (not in 1995 rev. ed.).
- The Glory of Venice. Exh. cat. Royal Academy of Arts, London; National Gallery of Art, Washington; Museo del Settecento Veneziano - Ca'Rezzonico, Venice; Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice, 1994-1995: 489, cat. 37, color repro. 110.
- De Grazia, Diane, and Eric Garberson, with Edgar Peters Bowron, Peter M. Lukehart, and Mitchell Merling. Italian Paintings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 237-242, color repro. 239.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 244-245, no. 196, color repro.
The support is a gauzelike fabric. The reddish brown ground shows through in areas of abrasion and in passages where it was used as shading. Over the uniform ground layer are additional layers, toned to conform with the related paint layer. For example, a light-toned layer is under the sky, a darker tone is under the foreground, and a yellow layer is under the shield. First the background was painted, using dark brown washes; next the sky, architecture, and foreground were added, leaving reserves for the subsequent execution of the sculptural and "live" figures. The exactness of these reserves suggests that the placement and poses of the figures had been established in advance. The tonal layers, contour strokes, and highlights were added last. The consistency of paint in the nonfigural sections varies from thin in the foreground to low impasto in the sky and architecture, and tends to be applied with blended strokes. The figures are painted with thick, fluid, unblended strokes. Pentimenti appear throughout the architecture, the sculptures, and in the trees. X-radiographs and infrared photographs reveal three figures in the foreground, at the bottom of the fountain, which were brought to a finished state and then painted out by the artist.
The original tacking margins have been opened and incorporated into the painted surface. Cusping appears along all but the top edge. The paint surface at the upper corners has darkened due to an optical effect of the dark ground showing through. The painting has extensive traction cracks, overall abrasion, and scattered losses. The painting was relined in 1955 by Mario Modestini. Discolored varnish was removed and the painting was restored during the 1955 treatment and, most recently, in 1994 by Ann Hoenigswald.