John Robert Cozens, Mount Etna from the Grotta del Capro, a drawing with watercolour wash

AD 1777

On 27 May 1777, the amateur artist Charles Gore (1726-1807) climbed Mount Etna, an active volcano in Italy, with the German artist Jakob Philipp Hackert (1737-1807). They were in the party of Richard Payne Knight (1750-1824), a young connoisseur and collector of antiquities and art, who left much of his collection to The British Museum on his death.

On his return from Sicily to Rome, Payne Knight employed John Robert Cozens (1752-97), the son of Alexander Cozens, to work up Gore's original sketch into this large watercolour, one of a series the connoisseur intended to use as illustrations to his written account of the tour.

Cozens shows the travellers' camp at night as they rested in the Grotta del Capro during their climb up the volcano, transforming Gore's original sketch into something far more dramatic and full of the elements of the sublime. The figures are dwarfed by the trees and rocks and the bonfire, burning brilliantly against the moonlit sky. The hill and mountain brood menacingly in the background and the colours are subdued and subtly varied in tone. The poetic mood of the drawing is dark and sombre as a result.

Payne Knight chose Cozens for the final watercolour records of the tour because of the artist's ability not just to record a view but because of his particular genius for evoking the emotions raised by a particular scene.

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More information


K. Sloan, Alexander and John Robert Coze (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1986)

M. Clarke and N. Penny (eds), The arrogant connoisseur: Rich, exh. cat. (Whitworth Art Gallery, 1982)

A. Wilton and I. Bignamini (eds.), Grand Tour: the lure of Italy (London, Tate Gallery Publishing, 1996)


Height: 357.000 mm
Width: 483.000 mm

Museum number

PD Oo-4-38


Bequeathed by R. Payne Knight


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