Gaspar van Wittel, called Vanvitelli (Utrecht 1653-1736 Rome)
PROVENANCE: Acquired by the present owner's grandmother, a member of Henry James, the novelist's family, and thence by family descent
Until the emergence this year of this hitherto unknown painting, four differing versions by Vanvitelli of this particular view were known. Of these, only one is signed and dated: that in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, formerly in the Crozat Collection, which was painted in 1686 (oil on canvas, 32.5 x 72 cm.). The others include: an oil on canvas, 49.5 x 96.5 cm., in a private collection, Rome; an oil on copper, 20 x 26 cm., in a private collection; and an oil on canvas, 62 x 118 cm., in an English private collection (Giuliano Briganti, Gaspar van Wittel, Milan 1966, nos. 137-140, illustrated pp. 182-183). A preparatory drawing of this view by the artist is also known (Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele; see Briganti, D306, illustrated p.394). Apart from numerous differences in the vessels depicted on the Tiber and the staffage throughout the composition, the present version differs from all the others in that it is taken from a position slightly further up-river.
The view is taken from the right bank of the Tiber, just beyond the Ponte Sant'Angelo. On the left can be seen the riverside façade of the Palazzo Altoviti, with its cinquecento loggia and the houses of the Riva dei Fiorentini, reproduced with the artist's usual fidelity to detail. These buildings were later destroyed to make way for the new bridges and the embankment along the river. Behind the Palazzo Altoviti, the dome of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini is just visible. In the centre of the view, beyond the remains of the Ponte Neroneano and the floating mill, on the other side of the Tiber and at the foot of the hill of the Gianicolo with the Convent of Santo Onofrio, is the Palazzo Salviati all Lungara; and further to the right, on the river, the terrace of the gardens of the Ospedale dei Pazzi; then comes the campanile of Santo Spirito and the Ospedale di Santo Spirito in Sassia with its high octagonal cupola (before it was expanded by Pope Benedetto XIV, who added a wing towards the river). In front of this is the landing place that served as a small port for the suburbs, above which peaks the dome of St. Peter's; and on the far right, on the bastions of the Castel Sant'Angelo can be made out the coats-of-arms of Gregorio XIII Buoncompagni and, closer to the foreground, that of the Medici.
After his initial training in the workshop of Matthias Withoos in Utrecht, Vanvitelli left for Rome, being first in the city in 1675, and was to spend the rest of his life working there, apart from brief sojourns in other Italian cities, in particular Naples and Venice. Vanvitelli became the principle painter of topographical views or vedute in Rome, concentrating on providing an up-to-date documentation of the city and depicting places as yet not hallowed by tradition. Vanvitelli thus takes an innovatory perspective in the present subject: whereas a similar area was depicted by Isaac de Moucheron, circa 1695-97, that artist painted it from the opposite bank and compressed his view into the area between the complex of the Ospedale di Santo Spirito and the bastions of the Castle, while the point of view was higher, probably from the Ponte Sant'Angelo, which allowed him to depict the whole dome and part of the façade of the Vatican basilica. In Vanvitelli's view, on the other hand, the river is the main protagonist, while even the most famous landmarks, such as the domes of St. Peter's and San Giovanni, are revealed in corners, almost hidden. His very individual interest was in the less celebrated aspect of the City.
We are grateful to Laura Laureati for authenticating the present lot on first hand inspection, while also expressing uncertainty about the authenticity of the signature.