This grand, sweeping view of the Eternal City is a heretofore unknown masterwork by Hendrik Frans van Lint, one of the foremost landscape painters and "vedutisti" of his day in Rome. Born in Antwerp in 1684 to the well-known history painter Pieter van Lint, Hendrik relocated in 1697 to Rome, which would remain his primary home throughout his career. Van Lint's friends and collaborators included Gaspar van Wittel (1652/3-1736) and Jan Frans van Bloemen (1662-1749), also members of the group of Dutch and Flemish artists living in Rome at the time who called themselves the "Bentvogels" or "Birds of a Feather". These famously rowdy painters, sculptors, goldsmiths and engravers were best known for their bacchic revelries and penchant for assuming nicknames based on their artistic style. Van Lint, who prepared his compositions with extraordinary care, became known in this circle as "Monsu Studio".
The Bentvogels' society flourished into the early years of the 17th century under Pope Clemente XI Albani, who ascended to the throne of St. Peters in 1700. Albani was a great patron, whose reign was characterized by exceptional achievements in literature and the arts. As Christopher M.S. John puts it, Albani was committed to the "urbanistic notion that the ancient monuments of Rome should be effectively and imaginatively woven into the modern fabric of the city," which was surely due, in some part, to "a new evaluation of the role of Rome in its own world opinion." (C.M.S. John, Papal art and cultural politics: Rome in the age of Clemente XI, Cambridge, 1993, p. 21).
The present composition--an exceedingly rare painted depiction of the Vatican gardens--bears the papal arms of Pope Clemente XI Albani, clearly visible at lower center. As recorded in a document of c. 1720 in the Vatican Archives, Albani had commissioned a series of refurbishments to the Vatican gardens during his reign. Beginning around 1706, this work included the redesign of the "Giardino Segreto" --now known as the Cortile della Pigna--visible at center in the present picture. Formal French gardens with "bosso" designs were installed along with 114 travertino pedestals for orange trees bearing the Albani arms, visible here surrounding the fountains. The Giardino Comune--visible at right--also underwent a unique and carefully recorded campaign of refurbishment. These renovations were designed and supervised by Giovanni Battista Contini (1642-1723) and Carlo Fontana (1638-1714), both students of Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. Born into a celebrated family of architects, Fontana received additional training from Pietro da Cortana and worked alongside Bernini on a number of prestigious commissions, including the remodeling of the Palazzo Chigi in Piazza SS Apostoli, Rome and the building of the Scala Regia in the Vatican. He also worked in 1680 to redesign the palatial home and exquisite gardens at the Villa Chigi (now known as the Villa Cetinale), which was owned by Cardinal Flavio Chigi, nephew to Pope Alexander VII. It is no surprise that after his success in this endeavor Fontana was engaged on the even more important commission to refurbish the Vatican gardens by Pope Clemente XI, which was among his last in Rome.
Van Lint's exceptional care in depicting the specific details of these gardens, as well as the prominence of the Albani arms and inclusion of the papal procession along the wall at right, all suggest that this picture may have been an Albani commission. In any case it must have been completed before 1721, when Pope Albani died. As such, the present view represents a rarity in Van Lint's oeuvre -- both for its unusually large size and its precise datability.
We are grateful to Ludovica Trezzani for her assistance in cataloguing this lot. Dr. Trezzani confirms the attribution to Van Lint on the basis of photographs, and has also identified the preparatory drawing for the present composition (fig. 1).
(fig. 1) Hendrik Frans van Lint, Saint Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Palace seen from the Cortile della Pigna, Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany 'bpk, Berlin Art Resource, NY.