This previously unknown series is a fine example of Marco Ricci's extraordinary mastery of the technique of tempera on kidskin. Nephew of Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734), Marco probably started his career in his uncle's Venetian workshop, where he had moved from their hometown Belluno in the Veneto mountains. An exhibition held in Belluno in 1993, celebrated the artist as the inventor of 18th Century Venetian landscape painting who had Francesco Guardi, Michele Marieschi and Canaletto as his direct followers (D. Succi and A. Delneri et al., Marco Ricci e il paesaggio Veneto del Settecento, exhib. cat., Belluno, Palazzo Crepadonna, 1993).
It has been suggested that Ricci may have learnt the technique of tempera on kidskin during his second visit to England (1712-16) where he had travelled in his uncle's company. After his return to Venice in 1716, he made constant use of this technique, executing numerous landscapes that were in great demand amongst European and English collectors (see Succi and Delneri, op. cit., p. 21). The tempera allowed the artist to engender a sunny luminosity that the traditional oil painting technique could not render. In the freshness and delicate rendering of landscape these four temperas are characteristic of his work in the 1720s, when the artist's ability to render light and shadow was at its most advanced.
These four Capriccios exemplify the 'types' of Ricci's oeuvre to be found throughout his landscape production: the antique ruins, the mountains near Belluno, farmers at their daily tasks. It was probably his work for theatre sets in London for the Queen's Theatre, Haymarket (1709) and later in Venice for the Sant'Angelo Theatre (1719) that helped him compose these scenes with such skill. Strongly-lit foregrounds, arches and columns create a dramatic, almost theatrical backdrop to the figures.
In 1723, Marco Ricci began to engrave his own works and twenty prints are known. Some of his compositions were engraved by Venetian artists such as Davide Fossati (1708- 1779), Anton Maria Zanetti (1680-1767) and above all by Ricci's own nephew Giuliano Giampiccoli (1703-1759). It was Giampiccoli who made a print from one of the four temperas presented here, Peasants working near a farm, for his popular Raccolta di dodici paesi inventate e dipinte dal celebre Marco Ricci, published circa 1740 by G. Wagner in Venice. Only Giampiccoli's print and a preparatory drawing by Marco Ricci were known of this composition until now. The drawing, in pen and brown ink, belonged to a volume of sheets by Ricci in the collection of Dr Benno Geiger, dismembered and sold at Sotheby's, 10 December 1920, lots 259-272 (K.T. Parker, Catalogue of the collection of drawings in the Ashmolean Museum, II, Oxford, 1956, p. 525; and A. Scarpa Sonino, Marco Ricci, Milan 1991, pp. 156 and 305, fig. 256). Giampiccoli's engraving reverses Ricci's composition and was itself engraved in the same direction as the tempera by Giovanni Volpato (1740-1803) (Scarpa Sonino, op.cit., p.156, under no. 83).
A label on the backing of the four temperas traces their provenance back to 1835 and the illustrious Litta Albani family at Castelbarco, Vaprio d'Adda, near Milan.