Van Wittel’s vedute held great appeal not only for collectors in Rome but also for visitors on tours of Italy wishing to take back mementoes of their travels. This view is among the finest depictions of one of the city’s greatest public spaces. Indeed, the Piazza del Popolo would have been the first landmark encountered by visitors coming to Rome from the north, via the Porta del Popolo, this veduta’s vantage point and the principal northern entrance to the Eternal City. The picture’s central focus is one of Rome’s oldest obelisks, the red granite monolith originally brought to Rome by the Emperor Augustus after the conquest of Egypt in 30 BC and erected in the Circus Maximus. The celebrated landmark was moved to its present location in 1589 under Pope Sixtus V. Beyond it, at the southern end of the piazza, are the matching domed churches of Santa Maria di Monte Santo and Santa Maria dei Miracoli. From there radiate the three principal arteries, known as the tridente, leading to the heart of the city. Against a backdrop that includes famous landmarks such as, from left, the Villa Medici, the twin towers of Santa Trinità dei Monti, and the Quirinal Palace, Van Wittel animates the cityscape of his day with figures going about their daily business. On the right are the buildings later demolished by Giuseppe Valadier (1762–1839) in his remodelling of the piazza, seen here in a valuable record of the city as it once was.
Van Wittel’s earliest recorded Italian veduta is his depiction in tempera of this very same view, a work on parchment dated 1680, now at the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin.1 Not long after that, in 1683, he provided his fellow Dutchman, the hydraulics engineer Cornelis Meyer (1629–1701), with an etching taken from essentially the same vantage point as the present painting, published by Meyer in L’arte di restituire a Roma la tralasciata navigatione del suo Tevere. The popularity of the view is attested by the large number of autograph treatments that are known today: Van Wittel captured the Piazza del Popolo in no fewer than fifteen paintings (eight in oil and seven in gouache), ranging in date from 1680 to 1718. These include a work in tempera datable to 1688 in the celebrated Colonna collection in Rome and an oil of similar dimensions to the present painting in the Devonshire collection at Chatsworth.2 The present work has been compared to the veduta in the Intesa collection of the Banca Commerciale Italiana, signed and dated 1718 and of comparable size.3 They probably all derive from a preparatory drawing that remains untraced, since they each vary in minor ways although the perspective remains broadly unchanged. At the far left of this composition Van Wittel has included the side-aisle façade of Santa Maria del Popolo, with the dome of the Cybo chapel visible above the wall of the adjacent Augustinian monastery, its gardens extending over the slopes of the Pincian Hill.
In this veduta Van Wittel renders with consummate skill the sweeping vista of the city captured in the afternoon light and brings to the scene a vivid sense of atmosphere. This View of Piazza del Popolo encapsulates his clarity of vision, meticulous depiction of architecture and profound understanding of panoramic perspective.
1 Inv. no. KdZ 11615; tempera on parchment, 24.5 x 41.2 cm., L. Laureati in Briganti 1996, p. 133, no. 1, reproduced.
2 Respectively tempera on parchment, 26.5 x 47.3 cm., L. Laureati in Briganti 1996, p. 133, no. 8, reproduced p. 134; and oil on canvas, 51 x 101 cm., L. Laureati in Briganti 1996, p. 134, no. 12, reproduced p. 135.
3 L. Trezzani in Rome and Venice 2002–03, p. 76, under no. 2. Whether both were painted the same year remains an open question as the two works differ in the proportion of space taken up by the piazza and the date and signature may well accord with the earlier dating of 1711.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.