Joshua Reynolds, English, 1723-1792
Title: Parody of Raphael's 'School of Athens'
Date: 1751
Medium: Oil on canvas
97 x 135 cm
Credit Line: Milltown Gift, 1902
Object Number: NGI.734
DescriptionAs a diversion from his study of Italian painting, Reynolds made a series of caricatures of Irish and British Grand Tourists visiting Rome in 1751, of which this is the largest and most elaborate. Its composition derives from Raphael’s famous fresco in the Vatican Stanze, with the overall tone being set by the ‘barbarous’ Gothic architecture in place of a classical setting.
Discussion continues about who is portrayed: there is no key and Reynolds is known to have included four imaginary figures, including the man seen from behind with a wig bag. He shows an incredible adeptness for exaggerating facial features and bandy legs, and observing details such as the oversize cuffs. Joseph Henry, who commissioned the painting, was a scholar; he can be seen reclining on the steps in the guise of the cynic Diogenes. His uncle, the wealthy Joseph Leeson – the future Earl of Milltown – holds up an eyeglass at the centre, in the role of Plato, and looks across to his spindly son. The future Earl of Charlemont on recorder, and his three companions, demonstrate musical harmonics, in contrast to the pupils of Euclid trying to measure a pie.

March 2016

ProvenanceCommissioned by Joseph Henry of Saffran, 1st Earl of Milltown in 1763; by descent; Christie's, 14 March 1868, lot 168, where bought and subsequently sold as property of Trustees of a Charitable Institution at Foster's, 25 May 1870, lot 114 to Lady Barbara Countess of Milltown; Earls of Milltown; Milltown Gift, 1902
Exhibition HistoryThe Reynolds Exhibition, 45 Park Lane, February - March 1937

Exhibition of Works of the English Caricaturists, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, 1938

Settecento a Roma, Palazo Braschi, Rome, March - May 1959

Sotheby's, London, Summer 1971

Milan, 1975

Munich, 1979

Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century, Tate Gallery, London, 10 October 1996 - 1 January 1997; Palazzo delle Exposizioni, Rome, 5 February - 7 April 1997

Rude Britannia: British Comic Art, Tate Britain, London, 9 June - 5 September 2010

Artist's Face to Face, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 30 June - 14 October 2012
Label TextThere was a vogue for caricature portraits among Grand Tourists visiting Rome in the mid-eighteenth century. Reynolds, a young man at the time, clearly enjoyed the opportunity to break from his serious studies to depict a group mimicking the ancient figures included in Raphael’s celebrated fresco. He shows an incredible adeptness for exaggerating facial features and odd physiques. Most of the twenty-six sitters have now been identified. Joseph Leeson, later 1st Earl of Milltown, is prominent at the centre with his eyeglass; however it was his scholarly nephew, Joseph Henry, seated on the steps below, who commissioned the picture.
Inscriptionon reverse: Joseph Henry (Reynolds pinxt) Rome 1751