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Capriccio with Roman monuments, including the Castel Sant'Angelo and Saint Peter's

Capriccio with Roman monuments, including the Castel Sant'Angelo and Saint Peter's
oil on canvas
19 1/8 x 29 in. (48.5 x 73.6 cm.)
(Possibly) by descent in the Towneley family to Alice Towneley, Lady O'Hagan (1846-1921), and by descent to her son,
Maurice Towneley-O'Hagan, 3rd Baron O'Hagan (1882-1961), by whom sold to the following,
J.M. Heinemann, New York, 1944.
Anonymous sale; Charpentier, Paris, 24 March 1952, lot 19.
with Frank Partridge & Sons, London, 1966, where acquired.
World Collectors Annual, IV, 1952, p. 20, no. 191a.
W.G. Constable, Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697-1768, Oxford, 1962, II, p. 375, no. 407b, as 'Bellotto'.
S. Kozakiewicz, Bernardo Bellotto, London, 1972, II, pp. 99 and 101, no. 130, illustrated.
E. Camesasca, L'opera completa del Bellotto, Milan, 1974, pp. 123-124, no. 33A, illustrated.

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Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair Old Masters

Lot Essay

This view, incorporating famous landmarks that the artist had sketched in Rome, was painted early in Bellotto’s career, in a highly atmospheric style but with the light colouring and clear blue sky typical of the work of his energetic youth. Bellotto was startingly precocious, painting works that aspired to Canaletto’s and were sometimes confused with his even as a very young man. The third son of Fiorenza Domeninca (1700-1781), the sister of Canaletto, Bellotto was apprenticed to his uncle in the early months of 1736 when he was aged fifteen. Canaletto, at the height of his first fame, undoubtedly required assistance with his immense output. The apprenticeship lasted around two years, but even after that the relationship continued and Bellotto undertook his journey to Rome in late 1742 or early 1743 ‘per consiglio del Zio’ (‘by advice of the Uncle’).
Bellotto’s movements around the Italian peninsula during this early period in his career are little documented and much debated by scholars, although recent archival discoveries have shed some much-needed light on this area (B.A. Kowalczyk, ‘Bellotto and Zanetti in Florence’, The Burlington Magazine, January 2012, CLIV, no. 1306, pp. 24-31). Bellotto made an initial trip to various Italian cities in 1740 before returning to Venice, but two years later he was advised to travel to the Eternal City, where Canaletto had made numerous drawings of monuments on a trip in around 1720 that he continued to use throughout his career.
On 16 August 1743, Bellotto exhibited a view of Rome, Santa Maria d’Aracoeli and the Campidoglio (Petworth House, National Trust), in Venice on the feast of Saint Roch (ibid., p. 30), providing a terminus ante quem for his Roman visit. Bellotto stayed long enough in Rome to draw most of the city’s major landmarks. The most relevant view he painted, in reference to the present painting, was of The Tiber with the Castel Sant’Angelo (Detroit Institute of Art; C. Viglis, ‘Bernardo Bellotto’s Seven Large Views of Rome, c. 1743, The Burlington Magazine, February 2000, CXLII, no. 1163, p. 79, fig. 6), a site which presumably provided the initial idea for this capriccio, with the Castel Sant’Angelo framing the right side and the dome of Saint Peter’s seen in the far distance. It is evident that Bellotto had a liberal approach to pictorial composition at this stage and a readiness to recycle motifs, as is shown in his Capriccio with a Roman Triumphal arch (Parma, Galleria Nazionale; S. Kozakiewicz, op. cit., p. 96, no. 128) in which these two Roman landmarks are again reused for different pictorial effects.
Although it may seem as if Bellotto was painting a simplified and fanciful version of the Detroit picture from the south bank of the Tiber, the artist may also have taken inspiration from the setting of the Ponte Lucano, a Roman stone bridge to the east of the city. This view was recorded by Giovanni Battista Busiri in 1739 (A. Busiri Vici, Giovanni Battista Busiri: Vedutista romana del ’700, Rome, 1966, p. 116, no. 161) and Bellotto appears to have used it as the basis of his composition, replacing the old Roman round tower with the Castel Sant’Angelo and including the dome of Saint Peter’s in the background.
The present painting had been given to both Canaletto and Bellotto (Constable, op. cit.) before Constable and subsequently Kozakiewicz placed it firmly in Bellotto’s oeuvre, whilst noting the uncharacteristic style of the figures (Kozakiewicz, op. cit.). These figures, finished with tiny strokes of the brush in exacting fashion, were painted by the Florentine artist Giuseppe Zocchi (1711/17-1767). They compare closely with Zocchi’s staffage of a similar date, such as that in his View of the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, Florence (sold Christie’s, London, 4 December 2012, lot 54). This partnership between Bellotto and Zocchi, which is hardly surprising considering the important role Anton Maria Zanetti (1680-1767) played in promoting both artists simultaneously during these years, raises the question as to when and where the present Capriccio was painted. It is possible that Zocchi visited Venice after Bellotto’s return to his native city, although whether this sojourn actually took place has been questioned (ibid., p. 27), and it is more likely that the presence of Zocchi’s hand points to Bellotto having made an undocumented stopover in Florence on his return from Rome to Venice. Evidence of such a trip has been cited (C. Beddington, Bernardo Bellotto and his circle in Italy & a masterpiece by Francesco Guardi, London, 2014, pp. 42-3), but we can now be fairly certain that this stopover took place after his visit to Rome and not before.
The assured handling and atmospheric effects of this capriccio show how far Bellotto had come in such a short period of time. The viscosity in the various layers of paint to show the fading of the walls suggests an even deeper fascination with the effects of light on the aged surfaces of buildings than Canaletto's and anticipates the effects he would go on to achieve int the celebrated masterpieces he undertook on a grander scale a few years later in Verona.
While there is no certain record of the picture at Towneley, the fact that this includes both ancient Roman buildings and Saint Peter’s would unquestionably have appealed to Charles Towneley (1737-1805) of Towneley, a Roman Catholic whose celebrated collection of classical marbles was sold to the British Museum in 1810.
We would like to thank Charles Beddington for his assistance with this catalogue entry.

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