Roman Palace Burning (Primary Title)
Rome Burning (Former Title)

Pierre-Jacques Volaire, French, 1729 - ca. 1790 (Artist)

Oil on canvas
Unframed: 48 x 62 in. (?) Framed: 47 1/2 x 62 3/4 x 2 1/2 in.
This dramatic painting was completed during Volaire’s fifth and final year living in Rome and is the French artist’s first depiction of a large-scale conflagration. Themes of catastrophe and natural disaster would become central to his art after he moved to Naples later that year, where he witnessed the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the legendary volcano that had violently eradicated the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the first century. The event had been widely anticipated and attracted tourists from across Europe, and the expectation of the spectacle likely influenced Volaire’s choice of subject for Roman Palace Burning. The nighttime scene combines contemporary motifs with a blend of elements of real and imaginary architecture. On the left appears the terrace of the early 18th-century Port of Ripa Grande, while the circular tower and the colonnade engulfed by intensely luminous flames evoke the ancient Roman temples of Romulus and Saturn. This alarming capriccio (imaginary scene) allegorically connects the burning of Rome by Emperor Nero in 64 ad with the economic crisis that occurred under the reign of Pope Clement XIII beginning in 1758.
Signed and dated lower right: Le che[valier] p. j. Volaire / fecit in roma. 1767
The Jordan and Thomas A. Saunders III Collection

Some object records are not complete and do not reflect VMFA's full and current knowledge. VMFA makes routine updates as records are reviewed and enhanced.