The Vale and Temple of Segestae, Sicily

Object Number: 
Oil on canvas
Overall: 44 1/4 x 66 in. ( 112.4 x 167.6 cm ) Framed: 59 x 79 7/8 x 5 in. ( 149.9 x 202.9 x 12.7 cm )
Gallery Label: 
In August 1841 Cole departed for his second trip abroad. His travels took him to England, Paris, through the Alps, then to Rome. In the summer of 1842 he visited Sicily, where he encountered the view that inspired this painting. Cole wrote of having painted a small view of the Temple of Segesta, and his 1844 description of the scenery in The Knickerbocker suggests that the N-YHS painting is in large part an accurate, unembellished view: "the broad slopes of an ample valley lie before the traveler, which though almost treeless, are waving with beans, and grain and grass. In the depth, is a river meandering among fragrant oleanders; on the left, the valley is intersected by a range of distant mountains; on the right is a beautiful bay of the Mediterranean. Across the valley the mountains form a green amphitheatre, and high in the its remotest part is seen the Temple of Segeste [sic]." The Temple, built in the late fifth century, is one of the best preserved in Magna Graecia. In keeping with Cole's description, it crowns a distant hill. In another painting, The Temple of Segesta with the Artist Sketching of ca. 1843 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) Cole made the structure a focal point, but here it is a distant jewel, almost blending into the rocky landscape. In keeping with the picturesque tradition that dominated American landscape painting, Cole framed the scene with large waving palm trees on the left and an outcropping of rock on the right. In the foreground, goats frolic in familial groupings, perhaps alluding to their human counterparts in the dwellings scattered throughout the scene, and a cloaked peasant observes a pair at right. The mist rolling out of the valley behind the temple suggests the vastness of the landscape. Cole exhibited several European scenes at the National Academy of Design in New York upon his return, but not this one. The artist presented it to the New York Gallery of the Fine Arts, an organization devoted to displaying the collection of Cole's friend and patron Luman Reed, who had died in 1836. It was exhibited there in 1844 and praised as "one of his finest landscapes."
Cole, Thomas, "Sicilian Scenery and Antiquities," The Knickerbocker, Vol. XXIII, Feb. 1844,104-114 and Mar. 1844, 236-244. "The New York Gallery of Fine Arts," The Broadway Journal, March 1, 1845, p. 134. Noble, Louis Legrand, The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, Hensonville, New York: Black Dome Press, 1964, p. 161. Mann, Maybelle, "The New-York Gallery of Fine Arts: 'A Source of Refinement,'" The American Art Journal, Vol. XI, No. 1, January 1979, p. 79. Koke, Richard J., American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New-York Historical Society, Vol. I, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1982, pp. 206-7. Novak, Barbara, American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 56. Goldin, Marco, ed., America: Storie di pittura dal Nuovo Mondo, Italy: Linea d'Ombra Libri, 2007, pp. 169, 459-60.
Credit Line: 
Gift of The New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group