This view of Piazza Navona on a bright and busy market day is one of nine different versions of this Roman view currently known. These views range from a small tempera on vellum made in 1688 for Prince Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna, to the very large oil on canvas now in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid, of 1699, and a late work from 1721 showing the flooded piazza. The present painting is the only version executed in oil on copper, a medium which the artist seldom employed. In fact, paintings on copper are quite exceptional in his oeuvre and their provenance is often confused. Nine paintings on copper by Gaspar van Wittel are listed in the 1844 inventory of the collection of prince Caracciolo d'Avellino in Naples, which was published by Don Ferrante in 1902 (op. cit.). These comprise three pairs of vedute with similar dimensions depicting Rome, Venice and Florence, one single view of Rome, and a larger pair depicting Naples. In 1966 a view of the royal palace in Naples (il 'Largo di Palazzo') and a view of Venice -- still with the family -- were published by Raffaello Causa ('Un nuovo libro su Gaspar van Wittel e alcuni suoi inediti,' Napoli Nobilissima, V, 1966, pp. 175-181). The whole group of paintings, now scattered among European museums and private collections, some of them still bearing the Caracciolo d'Avellino inventory number, was reconstructed by Laura Laureati and Ludovica Trezzani in 1996 (op. cit., pp. 13-14, nos. 40, 105, 270, 274, 288, 309, 346, 364). The present painting corresponds to no. 75 in the Caracciolo inventory: 'Un altro dello stesso autore [i.e., Gaspare Vanvitelli] dinotante la piazza Navona di Roma in un giorno di mercato, ducati 150'. The pendant view of Piazza San Pietro, then valued at 100 ducati, is now in a British private collection (ibid., no. 105).
No documents remain concerning this commission; in all likelihood, the whole set was painted by Gaspar van Wittel for the 5th Prince d'Avellino, Marino Francesco Maria Caracciolo (1668-1720). As the husband of Antonia Spinola Colonna, a niece to Van Wittel's major patron Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna, he was certainly acquainted with the artist's work. The 'Diario di Roma' written by Francesco Valesio records his visits to Rome in 1701 and 1702, and again in 1710 as the Neapolitan Ambassador, when he was a guest of prince Filippo II Colonna, Gran Contestabile of the Kingdom of Naples, who was perhaps the greatest collector of views by Van Wittel. Two paintings from the Caracciolo d'Avellino collection, namely the pendant view of Piazza San Pietro and one of the views of Venice bear the date of 1706 and were made when Van Wittel was back in Rome after his stay in Naples, where he had been working for the Spanish Viceroy Don Luis de la Cerda, Duke of Medinaceli, brother-in-law to Prince Colonna.
Nothing is known about the collection's dispersal: the present View of Piazza Navona is next recorded in Rome in 1934, together with the View of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, when they were sold in an auction held at Palazzo Simonetti, from the collection of a German scholar, Immanuel Friedländer. The painting was subsequently acquired by Brazilian Ambassador Guerra Duval whose residence was just behind Piazza Navona; it passed from his collection to the present owners in 1947.