PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
Sir Charles Clore (1904–1979), London, after 1966;
Sold posthumously ('The Property of the late Sir Charles Clore's Charitable, Personal Settlement'), Sotheby's, London, 11 December 1985, lot 14, for £63,800;
Anonymous sale ('From a Private Collection'), New York, Christie's, 11 January 1989, lot 104, for $242,000;
With the Walpole Gallery, London;
From whom acquired by the present owner.
A. Zwollo, Hollandse een Vlaamse veduteschilders te Rome 1675–1725, Assen 1973, p. 138;
Seventeenth Century Dutch Drawings from American Collections, exh. cat., Washington, Denver and Fort Worth 1977, p. 91, under no. 84;
L. Salerno, I pittori di vedute in Italia (1580–1830), Rome 1991, p. 77, no. 14 and p. 79, no. 17, both reproduced in black and white;
G. Briganti, Gaspar van Wittel, L. Laureati and L. Trezzani (eds), Milan 1996, pp. 151 and 153, nos 50 and 54, reproduced in colour on pp. 152 and 153;
L. Laureati in Gaspare Vanvitelli e le origini del vedutismo, exh. cat., Chiostro del Bramante, Rome, and Museo Correr, Venice, 26 October 2002 – 2 February 2003 and 28 February – 1 June 2003, p. 96, under no. 12 (The Arch of Septimus Severus with the Temple of Saturn), p. 98, under no. 13 (The Colosseum with the Arch of Constantine).
These engaging views of the Roman Forum create a vivid impression of the city’s appearance in the early eighteenth century. Against a backdrop of old and new, Van Wittel animates the cityscape of his day with figures going about their daily business. His depictions of antiquity’s celebrated monuments incorporated in contemporary views held great appeal not only for collectors in Rome but also for those wishing to take back mementoes of their travels.
Of the eight variants that are known of The Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, only two are dated: one is the present view of 1703 and the other is a view of 1716 at Holkham Hall, Norfolk, in the collection of the Earl of Leicester, which was bought directly from the artist by his forbear Thomas Coke. In this view, the magnificent Flavian amphitheatre dominates the scene. Rome’s most iconic building takes centre stage, while the Arch of Constantine plays a considerably more minor role, its shadowed façade rendered in poetic contre-jour; other peripheral sites are readily identifiable: in the distance to the left, the Lateran Palace, beside it the point of its obelisk punctuates the skyline; to the right, nestled within the cityscape beyond the Arch of Constantine, are the apse and campanile of the ancient basilica of SS Giovanni e Paolo; and at the far right, the brick arches of the aqueduct of Aqua Claudia. Standing between the veduta’s two principal monuments is the Meta Sudans, a large conical fountain built in the first century AD, by this date a ruin reduced to its brick core.
The pendant depicts The Arch of Septimus Severus with the Temple of Saturn. Four variants are recorded, of which the only dated example is this, thought to be the earliest.1 The view is taken from the road at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, between the steps of the Church of SS Luca e Martina to the left, and the wide steps leading up to the Campidoglio to the right. Furthest to the left is the watering fountain of Campo Vaccino (aptly enough, cattle sit close by), with the façade of Santa Maria Liberatrice just beyond; the tall brick structure is the Dogana della Grascia; the column of Phocas stands to its right. The view is dominated at its centre by the Arch of Septimus Severus, shown at an emphatically oblique angle; the road beyond leads to Santa Maria della Consolazione. Beside the arch stands the Temple of Saturn; the inscription on the architrave records its reconstruction after a fire destroyed it; the temple’s grand columns and ruined pediment serve as a screen for the large rustic building beyond. To the right a tree-lined path leads to Monte Tarpeo. Partly obscured by the hillside at the base of the Campidoglio are the three surviving fluted columns surmounted by a fragmentary cornice of the Temple of Vespasian, known as Jupiter Tonans; furthest to the right is the church of S. Giuseppe dei Falegnami, its stairway no longer extant; below, at street level, a woman kneels in prayer at the entrance to the Mamertine Prison, where Saint Peter is traditionally believed to have been incarcerated.
A beautiful drawing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, executed in pen and brown ink, brush and grey wash, and black chalk on paper, served as a preparatory study for the central section of The Arch of Septimus Severus with the Temple of Saturn.2 It testifies to the care with which Van Wittel prepared his painted views of Rome. The arch’s massive structure is depicted at the same steeply foreshortened angle as it appears in the corresponding painting. Immediately to the left of the arch Van Wittel has drawn the column of Phocas, while on the right he has rendered the streetscape in perspective and the Temple of Saturn, partly obscured by trees (in the finished painting the position of the trees is changed so as not to mask the temple). The drawing is squared for transfer.
The clarity and precision achieved by Van Wittel in his paintings relies on the careful preparation of his compositions with drawings like this, while his true skill as an artist lies in his ability to maintain that fresh sense of immediacy also in his finished works as these paintings demonstrate.
1. For the three other paintings, see Briganti 1996, nos 51, 52 and 53, the latter in oval format.
2. Acc. no. 1971.157; 39.7 x 51.4 cm.
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