During the 1700s the Grand Tour—extended travel in Italy—was very common for young aristocrats and wealthy elites wanting to gain worldly experience and cultural sophistication. While on these tours it was not uncommon for people to collect art, including a portrait in an Italian setting.
Pompeo Batoni was an Italian artist based in Rome, and well known for his expertise in these types of portraits. He was widely admired by the British because of his ties to British bankers, who referred a large part of his clientele. His flattering, yet naturalistic portrayals and his reasonable pricing compared to other portrait painters at the time made him a popular choice.
This work exemplifies Batoni Grand Tour portraiture. The sitter’s wealth is evident from his lavishly trimmed blue and gold suit, and the hilt of a sword visible at his proper left hip. He is posed casually next to an antique krater (or vase), leaning to one side and looking off toward the distance. The casualness of this pose suggests an air of belonging and understanding of the culture around him, an impression he would want to present at home. Although not much is known of Wodehouse, other than that he was a Member of Parliament for Norfolk from 1784–97, it is clear that this cultural experience would have been helpful to him as he moved in wealthy and governmental circles. Batoni’s sitters, if employed, typically worked in fields such as law, the military, or the church.
Audio: Rachel Luczkowski, Oberlin College