In 1824, Weir went to Florence to study and became the pupil of the neoclassical painter Pietro Benvenuti. By December of the following year he resettled in Rome where he roomed with the American sculptor Horatio Greenough. While in Italy, Weir painted religious and landscape subjects, and grew to admire the transparency and depth of the Venetian Old Masters Titian and Veronese. In 1827, Weir returned to America with the ailing Greenough, and following a period in Boston he opened a studio in New York.
"Fountain of Cicero" dates from 1829 and is one of a number of paintings of Italian subjects that Weir created following his return to the United States. The work relates to his unlocated painting "Fountain of Egeria". The picture features two young women pausing with their jugs of water close to the Fountain of Cicero. They are dressed in 19th century costume and appear among the ruins of antiquity. Inscribed in the ruin above them is the inscription FONS CICERONIS/TORMIAE. A date in Roman numerals appears below, which is difficult to decipher. As Michael E. Moss has noted, One is reminded of the 18th-century views of Rome and the Campagna by the Italian artist Pannini, who incorporated so well the ruins of antiquity with scenes of his own times. Pannini's work is generally on a grander scale, but he is an artist about whom Weir would have known from his study in Rome (entry on Fountain of Cicero in "Robert Weir: Artist and Teacher of West Point" [West Point, New York: Cadet Fine Arts Forum of the U.S. Corps of Cadets, 1976], p. 42).
Marcus Tullius Cicero was born on January 3, 106 BC and was murdered on December 7, 43 BC. His life coincided with the decline and fall of the Roman Republic, and he was an important actor in many of the significant political events of his time (and his writings are now a valuable source of information to us about those events). He was, among other things, an orator, lawyer, politician, and philosopher. Weir's painting appears to feature the ruins of Cicero's villa in the town of Formia, located northwest of Naples on the Golfo di Gaeta, between the mouth of the Garigliano and the Gaeta peninsula. A town of the ancient Volsci people, Formia was taken by the Romans and became a popular Roman summer residence noted for the Caecuban and Falemian wines. Formai was destroyed by the Saracens in 842.