THE PROPERTY OF A FRENCH NOBLE FAMILY
This remarkable pair of paintings, hitherto unpublished and appearing on the art market for the very first time, have been in the same family's ownership since the end of the 18th century when they were acquired in Italy by a forebear of the present owners. They were quite probably purchased whilst on a Grand Tour for paintings by Vanvitelli, like those of other vedutisti of the 17th and 18th centuries, were much sought after and collected by foreigners who wanted visual records of the sites they had visited throughout Italy, particularly those in the Eternal City. Unlike Panini's capriccio views of Rome, Vanvitelli's paintings are for the most part topographically accurate and the artist produced a large number of preparatory drawings which he later squared for transfer in order to have recourse to them for his paintings. Many of his pictures record buildings and locations which have since been demolished or remodelled completely, and they thus provide us with an important visual testament to the city's appearance during his lifetime. Although he painted views of other Italian cities - Naples, Florence, Bologna and Verona among them - Vanvitelli was most enamoured with Rome and views of the capital constitute the largest part of his œuvre.
Vanvitelli arrived in Rome as a young man, when he was barely twenty years old, and he made the city his home from 1674 (until his death in 1736), absenting himself only briefly on trips to the North and other cities (to Naples, for example). Vanvitelli sought scenographic viewpoints for his paintings, liking the conventional sites of the Roman piazze as well as more unusual viewpoints that would give him panoramic views of the city's skyline (such as that from Trinità dei Monti, which he painted at least four times). The artist's numerous views of points along the river Tiber allowed him to paint topographical views of the city as backdrops to everyday life and the presence of water also enabled the artist to introduce a luminous quality to his vedute. Vanvitelli painted the river Tiber from at least fifteen different viewpoints, beginning his topographical journey at the Porto della Legna and ending it at the Ripa Grande: this pair of views marks the beginning and end of this artistic route. Indeed the coupling of precisely these views is not unique and even in Vanvitelli's own lifetime such pairs were recorded; a signed tempera of the Porto della Legna, for example, is described as a pendant to another of the Ripa Grande in the 1714 inventory of Filippo II Colonna.
Porto della Legna
In the immediate foreground is the port, as designed by Giovanni Vasanzio and Domenico Maderno in 1615, for the unloading of firewood. The port lay approximately halfway down the 'strada di Ripetta' and Vanvitelli's view here begins, at the extreme left, with the customs house and the Palazzo Borghese (with its visible buttress). Beyond the moored boats in the middle distance rises the Collegio Clementino and the cupola of the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone is visible just to the left of the tower. Further downstream is the Palazzo Altemps with its recognisable altana, and the pointed campanile of Santa Maria dell'Anima in the distance. The houses of Tor di Nona follow along the far bank and the Villa Lante sits on the Janiculum Hill beyond, with the cupola of the Chiesa Nuova just to the right of it. On the right bank is the area known as Prati di Castello, with the gateway to the vigna Altoviti (whose casino is just visible through the cypress trees). Next to this, behind the curve of the Tiber, rises the imposing structure of the Castel Sant'Angelo and further to the right is the Vatican with the enormous cupola of Saint Peter's towering over the horizon.
The view was already known to Briganti in five different versions at the time of his monograph. Two of these were executed in tempera on paper and the earliest was dated 1685. It is probable that Vanvitelli went on painting the view until 1704, just before the remodelling of the bank and the construction slightly further downstream of Alessandro Specchi's Porto di Ripetta, which itself was immortalised by Vanvitelli in a painting formerly in the Campilli collection, Rome.1 The five published views all differ slightly in format and composition: the one offered here is most closely related to the tempera in the Colonna collection, Rome, which has been dated to circa 1683.2 The staffage differs in each variant and the present view is distinctive for its inclusion of the figures on a wooden raft. The substantial figures in the foreground would indicate a dating during the second half of the 1680s or early 1690s, by comparison also with those in the more populated variant of this view in a private collection.3
An architectural drawing by Vanvitelli for this composition, almost certainly done in situ and subsequently squared for transfer, is in the Biblioteca Vittorio Emanuele, Rome.4 The drawing concentrates principally on the positioning and proportions of the architectural elements and Vanvitelli probably had recourse to it for the various representations of this view.
Porto di Ripa Grande
The Porto di Ripa Grande lies at the extreme end of the river Tiber from Porto della Legna and this view therefore consistutes the last in Vanvitelli's series of topographical views along the river. The viewpoint is taken from a continuation of via Marmorata, visible at the right as it widens and then narrows as it curves out of view. The left side of the composition begins with a large boat moored along the riverbank of the Tiber, just beside the double ramp that leads up from the Porto di Ripa Grande. The rightmost branch of the ramp runs across the old customs house, with the campanile of the church of Santa Maria in Torre towering behind it. The elegant building on the curve of the river, with its walled gardens, is the casino of Donna Olimpia Pamphilj. This view is particularly significant for its topographical record of this stretch of riverbank that no longer exists: the complex of buildings including the Dogana and palazzina Pamphilj was destroyed to make way for the Collegio di San Michele, which in turn was demolished in the 19th century when the entire Lungotevere was remodelled.
The site of the Ripa Grande was a particularly favourite of Vanvitelli's, almost certainly for the dramatic effect the sweeping curve in the river provided, and the artist painted the spot at least ten times: five views are taken from slightly closer in, without the riverbank widening as it does here in the immediate foreground, and five (including this one) are taken from the present viewpoint. Of those known to Briganti, the composition of the variant in the Accademia di San Luca, Rome, seems to resemble this one the closest and their dimensions are almost identical.5 The figures, on the other hand, have more in common with the version formerly in Montpellier, Marquis de Masclary collection, which is signed and dated 1690.6 This would suggest a similar date of execution for the present work - and indeed for the pair - and it is interesting to note that the ex-De Masclary painting was also conceived as a pendant to a view of the Porto della Legna, today in a private collection in Rome.7
As was Vanvitelli's practice, the artist must have executed an accurate topographical drawing to use for his painted variants. Although it is much damaged, a squared drawing of the Tiber at the Ripa Grande is in the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele, Rome.8 The right section appears to correspond with that in the present view but the central part of the drawing has been executed on a superimposed sheet and would appear to relate more closely to the views of the Ripa Grande taken from a little closer; in particular to that from the Odescalchi collection which is today in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome.9 Other drawings relating to this view survive: one, in Caserta, shows the buildings on the horizon; the other, formerly at Sotheby's, shows the palazzetto Pamphilj but from an almost frontal view.10
1. G. Briganti, ed. L. Laureati & L. Trezzani, Gaspar van Wittel, Milan 1996, p. 178, cat. no. 125, reproduced p. 179.
2. Briganti, op. cit., pp. 175-6, cat. no. 119, reproduced.
3. L. Trezzani, in L. Laureati & L. Trezzani, Gaspare Vanvitelli e le origini del vedutismo, exhibition catalogue, Rome, Chiostro del Bramante, 26 October 2002 - 2 February 2003, pp. 126-27, cat. no. 27, reproduced in colour.
4. Briganti, ibid., pp. 399-400, cat. no. D322, reproduced. The drawing is cut along the left margin as the numbering of the squares begins at no. 4.
5. 47 by 98 cm., Accademia di San Luca, Rome, inv. no. 312; see ibid., p. 200, cat. no. 191, reproduced p. 201.
6. Sold, London, Christie's, 4 July 1994, lot 112; reproduced in ibid., p. 200, cat. no. 190.
7. Ibid., pp. 176-77, cat. no. 121, reproduced in colour. The composition is similar in many respects to that of the View of the Porto della Legna offered here, although the latter is slightly less extended along the left margin.
8. Ibid., p. 393, cat. no. D305, reproduced p. 394.
9. Trezzani, in Laureati & Trezzani, op. cit., 2003, pp. 148-49, cat. no. 38, reproduced in colour.
10. The former, in Caserta, Palazzo Reale, inv. 1588, is in Briganti, op. cit., p. 312, cat. no. D38, reproduced. The latter, sold in these Rooms on 27 January 1966, lot 214, is reproduced in ibid., pp. 350-51, cat. no. D184.
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