Giuliano Briganti, Gaspar van Wittel (2nd ed., edited by Laura Laureati and Ludovica Trezzani), Milan, 1996, pp. 199–200, no. 189.
Laura Laureati in Vanvitelli: Gaspar van Wittel, exh. cat. Robilant+Voena, 2008, pp. 59–61, no. 13.
Charles Beddington, et al., Maestro Van Wittel, Dutch Master of the Italian Landscape
, Amersfoort, 2018, p. 73.
An early work by the artist, Vanvitelli’s sweeping view of the Ripa Grande is a beautifully rendered depiction of Rome’s main river port, giving today’s viewers a glimpse into daily life in the Eternal City at the end of the seventeenth century. The right side of the painting shows the Via Marmorata, along which marble from the quarries at Carrara was transported, while on the opposite bank are the main ramps of the port near the Dogana, the old customs house, with the tower of the church of the Santa Maria della Torre behind it. Beyond this are the Palazzina Pamphilj and the church of Santa Maria in Cappella, the only building in this group that remains today. Situated far in the distance, the Campidoglio serves as the centre point of the composition.
After training in his native Amersfoort, Gaspar Van Wittel, better known by his Italian moniker Vanvitelli, spent most of his life in and around Rome after settling there around 1675. He is considered one of the fathers of Italian vedute, or panoramic view paintings based on real places. Combining the faithful description of his surroundings, based in part on his Northern training, with anecdotal quotidian events, he was hugely successful. Religious sites and antique ruins were often replaced in his work by views never before depicted, showing the reality of modern Rome; everyday places or ancient sites which were still in use, such as the Ripa Grande, seen here, were among his favoured settings. Vanvitelli’s inimitable sense of the warm Italian sunlight added a further allure and grand romanticism to these scenes of daily life.
The present painting was quite probably purchased by a Grand Tourist, for paintings by Vanvitelli, like those of other vedutisti of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were much sought after and collected by foreigners who wanted visual records of the places they had visited throughout Italy, particularly those in the Eternal City. Unlike Giovanni Paolo 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 produce his paintings, often in a number of versions. Many of his pictures record buildings and locations which have since been demolished or remodelled completely and thus provide 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 sought out scenographic viewpoints for his paintings, liking the conventional sites of the Roman piazze as well as more unusual vistas 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 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. It is possible that the present painting was paired with a viewing from the Porto della Legna, with the two images marking the beginning and end of this artistic route; indeed, in Vanvitelli’s own lifetime such pairs were recorded.
In the present View of the Tiber at Ripa Grande, the artist has situated himself and his viewer at a point along the via Marmorata, visible at the right as it widens and then narrows as it curves out of view. The left side of the composition (or, the right bank of the Tiber) begins with a large boat moored along the bank of the Tiber, beside the ramp leading up from the Porto di Ripa Grande. The right branch of the ramp runs across the Dogana, the old customs house, with the campanile of the church of Santa Maria della Torre towering behind it. The elegant building on the curve of the river, with its walled gardens, is the palazzina of Donna Olimpia Pamphilj. Immediately in the distance are the surviving arches of the Ponte Rotto, all that remains of the ancient Pons Aemilius. In the background, beyond the curve of the river, the skyline is dominated, amidst houses and monasteries, by the Campidoglio, the Torre delle Milizie, and the dome of the church of San Luca. Further to the right is the tall campanile of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Below it, closer to the river, are two small Roman temples: the so-called Temple of Fortuna Virilis, recognizable from its tympanum, and adjacent to it, the circular Temple of Vesta.
On the left bank of the Tiber, shown at the right of the painting, is the via Marmorata, which narrows when it reaches the walls of a little garden and a house on the river, turning towards Santa Maria in Cosmedin. At this juncture, the road’s name changes to the via delle Saline, named for the warehouses where the salt from the works at Ostia was stored. Further in the background is the campanile of San Giorgio in Velabro. The appearance of this part of the left bank, represented by Van Wittel with great exactitude and detail, closely matches the plans of the city by Giovanni Battista Falda (1676) and Giambattista Nolli (1748). Such a comparison demonstrates the extent to which Vanvitelli was concerned with topographical accuracy.
This view is particularly significant for its topographical record of this stretch of riverbank that no longer exists: the stretch of buildings which included the Dogana and Palazzina Pamphilj was destroyed to make way for the Collegio di San Michele, which in turn was demolished in the nineteenth century when the entire Lungotevere was remodelled, and embankments were built to protect the city from the repeated flooding to which it was prone. The Lungotevere Aventino took the place of the via della Marmorata, with the Lungotevere Ripa opposite.
The Ripa Grande was among Vanvitelli’s favourite vistas, almost certainly for the dramatic effect the sweeping curve in the river provided. The artist painted the site at least ten times: five views, like the present one, are taken from slightly closer in, without the riverbank widening in the immediate foreground, as is the case in five other known pictures. Only one is securely dated, to 1686, and the others were presumably executed in the 1680s and 1690s. As was typical of 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 preparatory drawing of the Tiber at the Ripa Grande is in the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele, Rome; it can be dated to the early years of the artist’s career, around 1680.1 Other drawings relating to this view survive: one, in Caserta, shows the buildings on the horizon; the other, formerly at Sotheby’s, shows the Palazzina Pamphilj but from an almost frontal view.2
The skill with which Vanvitelli painted the staffage inhabiting his scene might also be noted: the standing youth in the white shirt and blue beret, the elderly man with a pilgrim’s staff in a red garment accompanied by a young boy, and the two seated men, one facing the viewer, the other with his back turned, all reveal the artist’s careful study of anatomy and pose, as evidenced by the a number of his drawings now at Caserta. In his first years in Rome, Vanvitelli, already skilled in perspective, created admirable topographical views, but the small figures peopling them are flimsy and schematic. In the space of a few years, the artist rectified this shortcoming through practice, the results of which can be seen in his great proficiency with the figures here. Indeed, the groups of bystanders, the two strolling friars, the beggar to whom the lady offers alms, the carter, the gentlemen engaged in conversation all offer visual interest to the scene, bringing life and local colour to the composition.
Perhaps the most charming vignette can be found in the right foreground, where a group of figures is clustered around a pile of marble blocks and columns, alluding to the name of the street on which they are piled. Although that road no longer exists, it is preserved forever in Vanvitelli’s view, and in Mariano Vasi’s Itinerario istruttivo di Roma of 1791:
“tutta la pianura, che rimane fra i monti Testaccio, ed Aventino, ed il Tevere viene comunemente detta la Marmorata, dalla quantità di marmi, che dalla riva del fiume venivano qui scaricati, molti dei quali sono stati trovati coi numeri incisi indicativi de’ pezzi, che dalla Grecia, e dall’Asia erano spediti, col nome di chi li spediva, col giorno della loro partenza, e col nome de’ Consoli per saperne l’anno. Si può credere che in queste vicinanze vi fossero diverse botteghe d’antichi Scultori, o Scalpellini, per esservi quivi trovati molti ferri di tal mestiere, degli abbozzi di statue, ed altri marmi lavorati in diverse guise.” [The whole low-lying area that lay between the hills of Testaccio, Aventine and the Tiber was popularly known as the Marmorata, from the quantity of marbles that were unloaded here on the riverbank, many of which have been found with numbers incised on them indicative of the pieces shipped here from Greece and from Asia, together with the names of those that had shipped them, the day of their departure and the name of the consuls to be able to trace their year. It may be assumed there were various workshops of ancient sculptors, or stonemasons in this area, due to the many metal tools of these professions, unfinished statues and other pieces of marble worked in various ways that have been found there.]
1. See Gaspare Vanvitelli e le origini del vedutismo, exh. cat., Chiostro del Bramante, Rome, 2002–3, p. 393, cat. no. D305, reproduced p. 394.
2. The former, in the Palazzo Reale in Caserta, inv. 1588, is in Briganti 1996, p. 312, no. D38, reproduced. The latter, sold Sotheby’s, London, 27 January 1966, lot 214, is reproduced in Briganti 1996, pp. 350–51, no. D184.
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