Born in Belluno in 1809, Ippolito Caffi is considered one of the most important vedutista since the great 17th Century masters of the tradition, Canaletto, Guardi and Bellotto. He received his artistic training at the Accademia in Venice. As a native of the Veneto, it is no surprise that views of Venice constitute a central element of his oeuvre. However, after receiving training at the local academy, Caffi moved to Rome in 1832 and acquired immediate fame depicting the Eternal City's many piazzas and monuments. He was also recognized for his treatise on perspective and his studies of Roman archaeology.
In 1843 and 1844, Caffi traveled to exotic locales such as Egypt, Greece and Turkey, in order to expand his repertory of subjects. Ironically however, his first work that created a sensation was a painting that returned back to his roots: Carnival at Venice. This was exhibited in Paris in 1846, and was admired for its brilliant light effects. When he returned to Venice, he joined revolutionary movements and in 1848 was forced to retire to Piedmont.
In the present lot, Caffi captures the full magnitude of Piazza San Pietro. He has painted the famous square from an elevated position in order to include the throngs of people and carriages flowing into the piazza. The higher perspective also offers a better view of the cupola, which is obstructed by the extremely long nave and high façade of the church. Bernini's colonnaded bracci encircle the gathering plane marked at its center by a great Egyptian obelisk, a 13th Century BC carving brought to Rome to stand in the Circus of Nero in 37 AD.
Like his forerunner Canaletto, Caffi is meticulous in his rendition of architecture. He uses the baroque masterpiece at the entrance of the Vatican to demonstrate his capacity to capture the structure with truth and even awe. Warm light pours in over the south wall, casting long winter shadows on the cobblestones. 17th Century fountains on opposing sides of the square send plumes of water high into the air, whitened by the Mediterranean light and contrasting with the dark figures of the faithful approaching. High above the people rises the cross that surmounts the obelisk. Above the cross stands the Cupola, and above that towering clouds and sky. In his crystal portrayal of Piazza San Pietro, Caffi shows his brilliance through perspective and ratio, color and line. His talent achieves an astounding level of horizontality to the bracci and the low rise of the piazza, as well as the significant verticality and dimension of the structures, bounded only by sky.