Skip to Content

Temple of Saturn and the Opening of the Cloaca Maxima

Hubert Robert (1733–1808)

French, Neoclassical
ca. 1785
223.5 x 113 cm (88 x 44 1/2 in.)
oil on canvas

Not on view


One of a set of four pendant paintings by the French Neoclassical painter, Hubert Robert, this canvas combines two otherwise unrelated Roman monuments, the Temple of Saturn and the cloaca maxima, in an imaginary, romantic manner typical of the artist. The Temple of Saturn is the oldest surviving structure in the Roman Forum and was dedicated to the agricultural deity Saturn. First built about 500 BCE, the temple ruins that Robert painted probably date to a reconstruction of the fourth century BCE. The “great sewer” or cloaca maxima was constructed in ancient Rome to drain local marshes and remove Rome’s waste water to the Tiber river. In this painting, Robert also contrasts the grandeur of the Roman ruins with everyday, contemporary life: a fisherman pulling his net into a boat, a woman carrying water jugs, and a man astride a white horse that drinks from the river. Above the cloaca maxima, three women hang laundry on a railing secured into one of the columns of the temple.

When the Blisses purchased this painting and its pendants in 1922, each was approximately a foot wider. During conservation undertaken in the late 1940s, one-foot canvas strips at the right sides of each painting were removed when it was ascertained that they were not original to the paintings. These strips, which comprised two vertical strips sewn together one above the other, had been overpainted to continue the scenes of the original paintings. Under the overpaint was an original layer of painted sky, and it was determined that these strips had originally been at the tops of each canvas. They were cut from the canvases at some unknown date and attached to the sides to make the compositions shorter and broader. Accordingly, each canvas would originally have been approximately two feet higher than it now is.

This painting and its pendants are typical of "grand tour" paintings made in the eighteenth century, for more on which see HC.P.1934.71. For the use of the Hubert Robert paintings at Dumbarton Oaks, see HC.P.1922.03, and for a discussion of the artist, see HC.P.1922.04.

J. Carder

Dooley, William Germain. "Classical landscape." The Christian Science Monitor (September 9, 1972), 8, ill. P.22.2.

Acquisition History
Collection of Edmond Blanc, Marnes-la-Coquette, France, before 1920.

Collection of Jacques de Canson, Paris, before 4/26/1922.

Purchased from Jacques de Canson, Paris, through the Galerie Jamarin, Paris, and through the Ehrich Galleries, New York, New York, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 4/26/1922.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., 4/26/1922-11/29/1940.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.

House Collection