Portrait of two English gentlemen before the Arch of Constantine
(Anton von Maron)



Anton Von Maron is one of the more interesting of the many foreign painters working in Rome in the second half of the 18th century. Trained under Karl Aigen and Daniel Gran in Vienna, he was studying in Rome by 1755, and from 1756-61 he was Mengs’s pupil and collaborator. On the latter’s moving to Madrid, Anton Von Maron’s career as a portraitist began in earnest. His clients were mainly foreign visitors to Rome, and between 1767-70 as many as ten of his pictures were granted export licenses. In 1765 Anton Von Maron married Mengs’s sister, Therése Concordia, and in the following year he was made a member of the Academia di San Luca. In that year he painted the spirited and original Robert Clive (formerly Rome, Scaretti Collection, now Galleria Nazionale) which shows him working in quite a different mode from Mengs, and in 1768 his fine portrait of Winckelmann (Weimar, Museum). After a few months in Vienna in 1772, Anton Von Maron returned to Rome with commissions to paint the Imperial family together with a hereditary title; he had already painted Kaiser Franz I and his Family (Schönbrunn). Twice Principe of the Academia di San Luca in 1784-6, Anton Von Maron maintained his connections with the Vienna Academy, proposing reforms based on his Roman academic experience. On Mengs’s death in 1779, Anton Von Maron carried on the series of engravings of antique paintings at Villa Negroni begun under Mengs, but never succeeded in ousting Angelika Kauffmann as the leading portraitist in Rome. His Fourth Marchioness of Bristol of 1779 (Christie’s 30th July 1964, Lot 11), formerly attributed to Vigée-Lebrun, shows him searching for a personal manner.

Anton Von Maron was also active as a figure painter, notably in the 1780s, when he painted the five ceiling pictures showing Dido and Aeneas in Villa Borghese (1784-5) and an altarpiece for Loreto of 1789. From 1791 dates The Sabine Woman brought to Thalassius for the new apartments at Palazzo Altieri, Rome, and from 1791-2 Anton Von Maron was in Genoa where he painted the Portrait of the Countess Durazzo (formerly Matthiesen Gallery, London) – the last major moment of his career before he lost much of his money because of the financial crisis in the Papal States and the creation of the Roman Republic. Anton Von Maron seems to have painted almost nothing from this time until the end of his life. In this portrait, although they have not been officially certified as such, it is highly probable that the sitters may be indentified as James Byres in blue and red and James Barry in brown.

Both of them were indeed in Rome at the time our painting was executed. James Byres sat for another known portrait by Anton Von Maron which is thought to have been painted around the time of his election to the Accademia di San Luca in 1768, where he had won 3rd prize for architectural design in 1762, and this painting features one of his drawings prominently in the foreground. The painting comes from a private collection in Paris.

James Byres of Tonley (1733 — 1817) was a Scottish architect, antiquary and dealer in Old Master paintings and antiquities. Born in Aberdeenshire in 1733, Byres was a member of a family of Scottish Jacobite sympathisers who settled in Rome in 1758, where he became a cicerone and an art dealer, mainly to Scottish and English gentlemen on the Grand Tour until his return to Scotland in 1790. His house was in Via Paolina.

Byres was a painter and an adept designer, whose Vanvitellian design for a palazzo facade won a prize from the Accademia di San Luca in 1762. Our gentlemen are posing in front of the Arch of Constantine, which serves as model for the Brandenburg Gate in Postdam. The city was also part of the Grand Tour, and this connection provides a clue to our sitter’s identity as James Byres. Byres, as well as some others British residents in Rome such as Thomas Jenkins and Colin Morison, worked as an art dealer, working with important European collectors.

He also played a key role in the Roman art market in the 18th century, supplying antiquities and Old Master paintings to visiting Grand Tourists. Although trained as an architect, he is best known as a dealer whose triumphs included the sale of the Portland Vase, now in the British Museum, to Sir William Hamilton and of Poussin’s series of Seven Sacraments, now at Belvoir Castle, which Byres sold to the Duke of Rutland in 1785, both purchased from Roman aristocratic collections. He also owned Poussin’s Assumption, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington. In 1783 he was one of the founder members of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. A clear idea of his own collection can be gleaned from a 1790 inventory made upon his return to Tonley. Though he sent many of his clients to Pompeo Batoni, the only Batoni portrait hanging in his house was of his sister Isabella, Mrs Robert Sandilands. Before he left Rome in 1790 he made a payment to the maître d’hôtel of Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal York in favour of the Duchess of Albany, illegitimate daughter of Bonnie Prince Charlie, so it may be inferred that his Jacobite sensibility ran deep. He died at Tonley in Aberdeenshire on 3 September 1817.


The other sitter, James Barry  (11 October 1741 – 22 February 1806), was an Irish painter, best remembered for his six-part series of paintings entitled The Progress of Human Culture in the Great Room of the Royal Society of Arts in London. Because of his determination to create art according to his own principles rather than those of his patrons, he is also noted for being one of the earliest romantic painters working in Britain, though as an artist few rated him highly until the fully comprehensive 1983 exhibition at the Tate Gallery led to a reassessment of this ‘notoriously belligerent personality’, who emerges as one of the most important Irish Neoclassical artists. He was also a profound influence on William Blake. Barry in the latter part of 1765 was enabled to go abroad. He went first to Paris, then to Rome, where he remained upwards of three years and most probably met with James Byres, from Rome to Florence and Bologna, and thence home through Venice. The series of six paintings—The progress of human knowledge and culture—has been described by critic Andrew Graham-Dixon as “Britain’s late, great answer to the Sistine Chapel”. Soon after his return from the continent Barry had been chosen a member of the Royal Academy of Arts; and in 1782 he was appointed professor of painting in the room of Edward Penny with a salary of £30 a year. Among other things, he insisted on the necessity of purchasing a collection of pictures by the best masters as models for the students, and proposed several of those in the Orleans collection. This recommendation was not relished, and in 1799 Barry was expelled from the Academy soon after the appearance of his Letter to the Dilettanti Society, an eccentric publication, full of enthusiasm for his art and at the same time of contempt for the living professors of it. Barry remained the only academician ever to be expelled by the Academy until Brendan Neiland in July 2004.

During his time at the Royal Academy of Arts, Barry painted The Thames (or Triumph of Navigation) in 1791, which featured the English music historian Charles Burney. After the loss of his salary, a subscription was set on foot by the Earl of Buchan to relieve him from his difficulties, and to settle him in a larger house to finish his picture of Pandora. The subscription amounted to £1000, with which an annuity was bought, but on 6 February 1806 he was seized with illness and died on the 22nd of the same month. On 4 March his remains were interred in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.


The Grand Tour was the traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper class European young men of means, or those of more humble origin who could find a sponsor. The custom flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transport in the 1840s, and was associated with a standard itinerary. It served as an educational rite of passage. Though primarily associated with the British nobility and wealthy landed gentry, similar trips were made by wealthy young men of Protestant Northern European nations, and from the second half of the 18th century, by some South and North Americans.

The primary value of the Grand Tour, it was believed, lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and to the aristocratic and fashionably polite society of the European continent. In addition, it provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art, and possibly the only chance to hear certain music. A Grand Tour could last from several months to several years. It was commonly undertaken in the company of a Cicerone, a knowledgeable guide or tutor.

In essence, the Grand Tour was neither a scholar’s pilgrimage nor a religious one, though a pleasurable stay in Venice and a cautious residence in Rome were essential.

Since the 17th century, a tour to such places was also considered essential for budding young artists to understand proper painting and sculpture techniques, though the trappings of the Grand Tour— valets and coachmen, perhaps a cook, certainly a ‘bear-leader’ or scholarly guide— were beyond their reach. For gentlemen, some works of art were essential to demonstrate the breadth and polish they had received from their tour: in Rome, antiquaries like Thomas Jenkins provided access to private collections of antiquities, among which enough proved to be for sale that the English market raised the price of such things, and for coins and medals, which formed more portable souvenirs and a respected gentleman’s guide to ancient history. Pompeo Batoni made a career of painting English milordi posed with graceful ease among Roman antiquities. Many continued on to Naples, where they viewed Herculaneum and Pompeii, but few ventured far into southern Italy or Malta, and fewer still to Greece, still under Turkish rule.

The typical 18th-century sentiment was that of the studious observer travelling through foreign lands reporting his findings on human nature for those unfortunate enough to have stayed home. Recounting one’s observations to society at large to increase its welfare was considered an obligation; the Grand Tour flourished in this mindset. It was pretty much the equivalent of the modern Gap Year, in the 18th century, a young British gentleman had usually received a broad yet confined education, and for them, the Grand Tour was also seen as an opportunity to escape the parental scrutiny, as young adults ever did and ever will do. To a young psyche this was a great emancipatory adventure, culturally of course but also on a more broadly human spectrum.

Exploring what life had to offer, at both ends of the scale of good and evil, could also be compared to some sort of masculine pendant to a debutante ball. Indeed, they would meet Cicerones who would forge their tastes and their culture, meet artists they could promote, meet other young men like them and forge potential useful relationships, to sum up it would prepare them to enter the social circles they were destined to by birth with all the necessary apparel  to become the perfect socialite.

The Grand Tour offered a liberal education, and the opportunity to acquire things otherwise unavailable at home, lending an air of accomplishment and prestige to the traveller. Grand Tourists would return with crates full of books, works of art, scientific instruments, and cultural artifacts – from snuff boxes and paperweights, to altars, fountains, and statuary – to be displayed in libraries, cabinets, gardens, drawing rooms, and galleries built for that purpose. This was a very defining period in a man’s life, the real time of freedom before coming back to family duties, arranged marriages, the burden of business, and all that was expected… one can easily understand what love for freedom attracted so many and entrapped some like James Byers for longer years. The trappings of the Grand Tour, especially portraits of the traveller painted in iconic continental settings, became the obligatory emblems of worldliness, gravitas and influence.


Our sitters are here being represented in front of The Arch of Constantine (Italian: Arco di Costantino), a triumphal arch in Rome, situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill. It was erected by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. Dedicated in 315, it is the largest Roman triumphal arch. Though dedicated to Constantine, much of the decorative material incorporated earlier work from the time of the emperors Trajan (98–117), Hadrian (117–138) and Marcus Aurelius (161–180), and is thus a collage. It is the last of the existing triumphal arches in Rome.

The location, between the Palatine Hill and the Caelian Hill, spanned the ancient route of Roman triumphs (Via triumphalis) at its origin, where it diverged from the Via Sacra. This route was that taken by the emperors when they entered the city in triumph.

54 in. x 39 ½ in. (137 x 100.5 cm.)
Oil on canvas

Arch. Andrea Busiri Vici d’Arcevia, Rome;

Thence by descent.

  1. Maltese, in Il Settecento a Roma, exhibition catalogue, Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 19 March – 31 May 1959, p. 151, cat. no. 373, reproduced plate 72;
  2. Skinner, ‘The Settecento a Roma Exhibition’, in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CI, no. 676-7, July – August 1959, p. 292, reproduced fig. 50;
  3. Busiri Vici, ‘Ritratti di Nathaniel Dance tra ruderi e salotti’, in Capitolium, nos. 7-8, 1965, pp. 384-391, footnote 17;

Artisti austriaci a Roma dal barocco alla secessione, exhibition catalogue, Rome, Palazzo Braschi, March – April 1972, p. 165, cat. no. 228;

  1. Rudolph ed., La pittura del ‘700 a Roma, Milan 1983, reproduced fig. 448;
  2. Busiri Vici, ‘Thomas Jenkins fra l’arte e l’antiquariato’, in L’Urbe, nos. 5-6, 1985, p. 158, reproduced fig. 1;
  3. Ryszkiewicz, ‘Un souvenir polonais du Grand Tour’, in Bulletin du Musée Nationale de Varsovie, no. 4, 1990, pp. 86, 92, reproduced fig. 4;
  4. Sestieri, Repertorio della pittura romana della fine del Seicento e del Settecento, Turin 1994, vol. I, p. 121;
  5. Petrucci, in I volti del Potere, exh. cat., Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, 24 March – 20 May 2004, p. 23, reproduced fig. 46.

Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Il Settecento a Roma, 19 March-31 May 1959, no. 373, lent by A. Busiri Vici;

Rome, Museo di Roma (Palazzo Braschi), Artisti austriaci a Roma dal Barocco alla Secessione, March-April 1972, no. 228.



Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
Italian - Roman
Price band
$350,000 - $500,000