Gaspar Van Wittel, Called Vanvitelli
Rome. View of the Tiber at Ripa Grande, c. 1690
Oil on canvas
97 x 171 cm / 38.1 x 67.3 in
Sweden, private collection; London, Sotheby’s, 20 April 1988, no. 28; London, Giacomo Algranti, 1994; London, private collection
G. Briganti, Gaspar Van Wittel,
2° edition ed. by L.
Laureati – L. Trezzani, Milano 1996, pp. 199-200, no. 189; L. Laureati in Vanvitelli,
catalogue of the exhibition
ed. by L. Laureati, Turin 2008, pp. 59 – 61;Maestro Van Wittel, Dutch Master of the Italian Landscape, 2019, page. 73
Robilant + Voena, London, Vanvitelli, 2008, n. 13
Amersfoort, Kunsthal KAdE, Maestro Van Wittel, Dutch Master of the Italian Landscape, 26 January - 5 May, 2019
Fluvial Rome is the main protagonist of Van Wittel’s topographical views. Gaspar van Wittel adopted over fifteen different viewing points along the course of the river, from the Ponte Milvio to the Ripetta and down to the Porto di Ripa Grande. This fine view of one of the most picturesque spots on the Tiber, placed at the outer edge of the city, is taken from the Strada della Marmorata, the street of marbles, that flanked the slopes of the Aventine, ran along a stretch of the river, and reached as far as the Piazza di Santa Maria in Cosmedin. It was a street of bustling traffic because it led from the centre of the city to the Porta San Paolo and also had landing stages for boats, in the stretch of the ancient salt warehouses.
Mariano Vasi, in his Itinerario istruttivo di Roma of 1791, described this street as follows:
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].
On the right bank of the Tiber (on the left side of the painting) we may see the last stretch of the harbour of Ripa Grande with some boats anchored along the quayside, followed by the Palazzina Pamphilj with its garden. A short distance ahead 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 - among 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, to the right of the painting, is the Strada della Marmorata which narrows when it reaches below the walls of a little garden and a house on the river and then turns towards Santa Maria in Cosmedin. After this narrowing of the road it took the name of Via delle Saline, after the warehouses where the salt from the salt 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 exactness in detail, finds a close match in the plans of the city by Giovanni Battista Falda (1676) and Giambattista Nolli (1748). And this coincidence is further confirmed by comparing this view with the one portraying the same places but that adopts as its viewing point the other side of the river, the unpublished View of the Porto di Ripa Grande from Ripa Grande dating to 1689 (exhibited here). By comparing the two images of Van Wittel and the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century plans of Rome, we can understand how topographically accurate are Gaspar van Wittel’s compositions. In the two views of the same place, taken from opposite points of view, we can reconstruct with some precision the plan of this seventeenth-century harbour area corresponding to the current area comprised between the Lungotevere Aventino on the one hand and the Lungotevere Ripa on the other, joined by the Ponte Aventino or Sublicio. Today this stretch of the river has been completely transformed by the embankments built in the late nineteenth century to protect the city from the repeated flooding to which it was prone. On the right bank (on the left in our painting) the Porto di Ripa Grande and the Palazzina Pamphilj were demolished. On the opposite bank the Lungotevere Aventino took the place of the ancient Via della Marmorata; a street with the same name, in memory of the place, now departs from the Ponte Aventino and ends at Porta San Paolo.
A squared preparatory drawing of the whole of this view survives in the collection of the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele in Rome. It is datable, like almost all the other preparatory drawings of this series, to the early years of the artist’s career, around 1680 (see G. Briganti, 1996, p. 393, D305). Five different versions of this view have so far been identified. All are based on this youthful drawing. They are for the most part datable to the 1680s and 1690s; only one is dated, to 1686. The present painting too, I assume, is datable to the 1690s. This is suggested by the group of five figures in the foreground, of considerable dimensions, drawn with the skill that the Dutch artist had attained in these years thanks to his assiduous practice in draughtsmanship. The standing youth in the white shirt and blue beret, the elderly man with a pilgrim’s staff in a red dress accompanied by a young boy and the two men seated, one facing the viewer, the other with his back turned, are all drawn with great virtuosity, thanks to the artist’s constant study of anatomy and pose, as testified by the drawings of Van Wittel now in the Reggia at Caserta. In the first years of his residence in Rome the Dutch artist, already skilled in perspective, created perfect topographical views, but the little figures he scattered here and there in them are flimsy and schematic, and reveal some inexperience in this field. In the space of a few years the artist’s constant exercise in drawing made good this shortcoming and Gaspar van Wittel, as in this case, reveals, or perhaps wished to demonstrate, the proficiency he had achieved. He did so in our painting in the little groups of bystanders, in the two strolling friars, in the beggar to whom the lady offers alms, in the carter, in the gentlemen engaged in conversation: all these figures, protected by the shade of that handsome two-storied house surrounded by a wall on the Marmorata that closes the composition, vividly recount the life of Rome. In the foreground, alongside the group of large figures, column shafts and blocks of stone allude to the street of marbles. The other life of the city takes place on the river: transports of men and goods by river or ferryboats that take them from one shore to the other.
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