Boucher was the most influential of Rococo artists, a prolific painter and draftsman, engraver, and designer whose pastoral motifs found expression in every medium from gold boxes to tapestry. He was influenced by François Lemoyne (1688–1737), but did not receive training at the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Having won the Prix de Rome in 1723, he was not awarded a place at the Académie de France and was instead obliged to stay in Paris and make a living as a printmaker. His visit to Italy, from 1728 to about 1731, was unofficial and he was admitted to the Académie only in 1734, when he was over thirty. Boucher’s brilliant official career was launched the following year, when he received a commission for four paintings for the queen’s chamber at Versailles. He was also patronized by Louis XV (1710–1774) and, from 1747 until her death in 1767, by the royal mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Boucher eventually was named first painter to the king and director of the Académie, flourishing until his death in 1770.
The present landscape, which is partly real and partly imaginary, is conspicuously signed and dated 1734 and was thus painted several years after Boucher’s return from Rome. The ruins of the forum were largely buried in the first half of the eighteenth century and the area, used for pasturage, was called the Campo Vaccino after the cows that grazed there. The artist’s close-up view of the Palatine Hill from the Campo Vaccino focuses on the ancient substructure that supported the palace of Caligula and Tiberius, built in the first century A.D., and on the pavilions and western wall of the Orti Farnesiani, terraced botanical gardens, also in ruinous state, designed in the mid-sixteenth century for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1520–1589).
Here Boucher removed the buildings of the Palatine from their natural setting, which would have been familiar to many of his travelling contemporaries, and introduced into the landscape peasants that quote in a most deliberate fashion drawings by Abraham Bloemaert (1566–1651), the Utrecht Mannerist. The same two figures, in different groupings and among many others, Boucher etched and published in 1735 under the title Livre d’études d’après les desseins originaux de Blomart, demonstrating his admiration for the pastoral works of the seventeenth-century Dutch painter and draftsman. The same artist must have inspired the conical hut with the straw roof and the blasted trees introduced into the right foreground. A number of related drawings by Boucher attest to his preoccupation with this important, relatively early landscape painting.
[Katharine Baetjer 2011]