Thomas Cole. Oil on canvas, 1840, 53 x 84 1/16 in. Toledo Museum of Art. Purchased with funds from the Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in Memory of her Father, Maurice A Scott, 1949.162.
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1. A man reclines on an oversized stack of folios, with a dreamy expression on his face and an architectural blueprint in his hand. This figure may represent the painting's commissioner, Ithiel Town, or may be a self-portrait of Cole, who considered himself an amateur architect.
2. The man rests on an oversized column, modeled after the Column of Trajan, a colossal sculpture in Rome erected in the second century C.E. Cole may have sketched the monument during his first trip to Italy in 1829-32. See Giovanni Battista Piranesi, View of the Trajan's Column.
3. A Romanesque arch frames the painting. This trompe l'oeil effect creates the impression that the viewer is looking out a window—complete with realistic-looking drapery—onto the scene.
4. The Gothic church seems to be a direct copy of an 1815 engraving of Salisbury Cathedral in London, found in one of Ithiel Town's books. Cole's patron was a leader of the nineteenth-century Gothic Revival movement in the United States. See After F. Mackenzie, Salisbury Cathedral Church.
5. Boats similar to those found in Cole's The Course of Empire: Consummation float in a harbor, referencing a past Golden Age.
6. Whereas the fountain included in Cole's The Course of Empire: Consummation was a comment on man's destructive power over nature, here it appears to be celebrating man's artistic genius.
7. A Greek temple front with a pediment and colonnade is similar to the classical buildings that Cole sketched on his two trips to Europe (1829-32 and 1841-42). Cole often modeled his own architectural designs after Grecian temples, in keeping with the enthusiasm for Greek Revival architecture in America during the early nineteenth century.
8. A temple with Egyptian lotus capitals provides a contrast to the Greek temple with Ionic columns, encouraging the viewer to contemplate the evolution of architectural history.
9. An Egyptian pyramid represents the birth of monumental architecture.
10. These Roman arches resemble those Cole painted on his first trip to Europe. See Aqueduct Near Rome.