Unpublished until its inclusion in Claudia Nordhoff's 2005 monograph, this majestic landscape by Jakob Philipp Hackert was commissioned by Philip Yorke, 3rd Duke of Hardwicke in 1783, when Alpine landscapes had only recently been "discovered" as a subject for painting.1 In a letter dated January 25th 1783, Hackert wrote to Hardwicke of his plans to paint for him a view of Switzerland in which "one will see snow covered mountains lost among the clouds, precipices and Ticino lost among these precipices."2 Hackert then executed the work in Rome, using drawings recording views of the St. Gotthard Pass during his trip to the Swiss Alps five years earlier.3
Until the discovery of the present picture, only two other Swiss landscapes by the artist were known to exist, an oil showing the glacier at Grindelwald and another showing the fall of the Rhine at Schaffhausen, both now in private collections. Its rarity of subject and exceptional provenance, along with it epistolary records, make this a particularly important addition to Hackert's corpus. Here, the artist positions himself facing North from Lake Maggiore and, looking out across the St. Gotthard Pass and river Ticino, we see the bell tower of the San Nicolao church in the village of Giornico beyond. According to the letter, this canvas was to be a pendant for the artist's View of Lake Averno, now lost. In contrast to the latter, the Swiss landscape, with its juxtaposition of minute foreground figures and Giornico's distant bell tower dwarfed at the feet of the colossal cliff faces and immense pines, would represent "une belle horreur de la nature."4 Nordhoff opines that, in showing the sheer enormity of the surrounding nature, Hackert was perhaps expressing his knowledge of the philosopher Edmund Burke's theory of the sublime and beautiful which would certainly have been known to Hardwicke.5 Upon its completion the following April, the painting was well received and the artist appears to have been pleased with his work. He wrote again to Hardwicke, informing him the work had been seen by some Englishmen who, themselves having crossed St. Gotthard, were thrilled with his handling of the scene, declaring they had never seen a Swiss view of such "grandeur" and "verité."6
1. C. Nordhoff and C. de Seta, (see under Literature) p. 158.
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