This engaging architectural fantasy is a characteristically mature, Italian work by the enigmatic landscape painter, François de Nomé. The French-born de Nomé, later known as Monsú Desiderio, moved to Rome from his native Metz around age eleven. In Rome he trained in perspective and landscape painting in the naturalistic vein of Paul Bril. In 1610 de Nomé settled permanently in Naples, where, within a few years, he was awarded the city's most coveted commissions, including an untraced series of twelve paintings illustrating The Life of the Pharaohs (1618).
In Naples de Nomé eschewed previous artistic influences in favor of such freely composed imaginary vistas as An architectural fantasy with artists sketching. Through a limited range of colors and a plunging, theatrical perspective, he conjures up a hallucinatory world of youthful draftsmen recording Mannerist statues and fantastic Gothic and Baroque buildings designed in the extravagant manner of Hans Vredeman de Vries. De Nomé's use of thick impasto further foregrounds these cryptic passages, set against a brooding, ominous sky. A similar architectural fantasy, anchored equally by multi-figured monuments and circular temples, is presently in a private collection in Rome (see Nappi, op. cit., p. 205, no. A123, illustrated).
The surreal impression of An architectural fantasy with artists sketching has often been associated with de Nomé's purportedly failing mental health, due to schizophrenia. However, the ultimate foundation for the landscape painter's fantasie may simply be lingering Mannerist conceits by Giulio Romano, Jacques Callot and, among his contemporaries, the bewitching nocturnes of Salvator Rosa and Alessandro Magnasco.
The identity of the figure painters who often collaborated with de Nomé remains somewhat controversial; however, according to Nappi (op. cit., p. 165), the figures in this particular work were most likely painted by an artist from the circle of Belisario Corenzio (Naples 1590-1646).