In the first of our two-day visit to the city of Rome, we explored some of the ancient ruins around the Palatine and Capitoline Hills. Today we start by walking south-west to the River Tiber and its small island, Isola Tiberina, where there was the temple to the god Aesculapius in classical times.
By the time that Gaspar van Wittel painted this View of Tiber in Rome in 1685, the temple to Aesculapius had all but vanished. In the first century, travertine blocks had been assembled to form the island into a ship, whose prow contained vestiges of the former temple, and those were all that remained.
Giovanni Piranesi shows this ‘prow’ more clearly in his etching. Carved into the rock is the unmistakable form of the serpent wound around Aesculapius’ rod, marking the site of the temple.
This wonderful oil sketch of The Island and Bridge of San Bartolomeo, Rome was painted in oils on paper by the young Camille Corot during his first stay in Rome, between 1825-28. Corot was another landscape master whose career blossomed during the periods he spent in Rome.
Further up river, to the north, is the massive Castel Sant’Angelo, originally built by the Emperor Hadrian as his family mausoleum, which has seen a wide variety of uses since then.
Although forgotten today, Achille Etna Michallon was one of the links between Valencienne’s oil sketches and Impressionism. His Fireworks from Castel Sant’Angelo shows the spectacular display that became popular with painters in the nineteenth century.
We then head back east into the centre of the city, to discover the Pantheon.
Piranesi’s later collection of views of Rome published under the title of Campus Martius in 1762 included this fine etching of the exterior of the Pantheon.
He also made several beautifully lit interior views, including this undated Interior View of the Pantheon.
A little further to the east is the famous Trevi Fountain, one of many in the city.
If you’ve ever visited Rome, you’ll surely recognise the famous sight of a Side View of the Trevi Fountain, one of the prints included in Piranesi’s hugely successful Views of Rome, in 1747-48. The largest fountain in the city, it dates from 19 BCE, when it was built at the end of the Acqua Vergine aqueduct. Work to create the modern version had started in 1732, but had been interrupted, and wasn’t completed until 1762, explaining why some of the sculpture is shown here incomplete.
From the centre we walk north for some relief in the Gardens of the Villa Borghese. On their edge is the Villa Medici, the birthplace of plein air oil painting, in Diego Velázquez’ Villa Medici in Rome, Pavilion of Ariadne of 1630.
When he was staying in Rome in 1630, Velázquez spent two of the hottest months of the summer at this villa. Although the two landscape paintings he made in its grounds are strongly suspected to have been made during this first visit to the city, proof is lacking. If that’s correct, they were probably the first landscape oil sketches made en plein air in European art.
This shows one of the sculptures which Velázquez had wanted to draw. His painting is relatively small, and executed in a sketchy manner, with thinned paint that has subsequently abraded from patches of the surface. The columns and arches are quickly formed, and the details of the two figures in the foreground are made from a series of quick brushstrokes, some using thicker paint.
Hans Andersen Brendekilde painted this Summer Day in Villa Borghese in Rome late in his career, in 1922. It shows this large public park, which was originally landscaped in ‘English style’ from a former vineyard. It was bought by the city and made properly public in 1903, and has since hosted many events, including part of the 1960 Olympic Games.
Palmer’s paintings made during his extended honeymoon vary in their quality. Rome from the Borghese Gardens (1837) is one of his better watercolours from his stay in the city.
I return to the oil sketches of Valenciennes to end our visit, and what I believe is now known as the Villa Farnesina, on the west bank of the River Tiber.
One of the finest, and the best-known, of all Valenciennes’ oil sketches is this showing Farm-buildings at the Villa Farnese: the Two Poplar Trees reputedly from 1780. This shows a Renaissance villa now in central Rome, although here its park setting makes it look as if it is out in the country. It was built in 1506-10 for a banker, and appropriately contains superb frescoes by Raphael and others. It is now owned by the state and most is open to visitors.
Many thanks to the many masters who made our visit not only possible, but such a delight. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.