This architectural piece by Viviano Codazzi dates to his early artistic production in Naples, before his move to Rome in 1648. Views of this type by Codazzi are recorded as early as the 1630s and the first securely dated works, the present picture among them, date to 1641. Codazzi stands out among his contemporaries and followers in that his primary interest lay in the understanding of architectural construction and the representation of it.
Viviano Codazzi's interest in architecture and his attention to linear perspective developed during his training in his native Bergamo. There he worked on large decorative schemes, known as quadratura, which were essentially architectural studies for interior spaces in which each element of architecture was carefully studied and articulated. Viviano adapted this practice to his easel paintings of the 1640s-70s and frequently enlivened these scenes with figures by collaborators such as Domenico Gargiulo.
While in Naples, Codazzi studied prints as visual references for the antique sites that he was to paint. The Basilica of Constantine was a popular subject among sixteenth-century engravers, and it is likely that Viviano relied on Giovanni Antonio Dosio's engraving (published in 1562) of this site for the present view. It mimics the engraving as the view is taken from the front of the right side of the Basilica, revealing three barrel-vaulted side naves. The ruined arch was a favorite motif of the artist, as it allowed him to show his skill at depicting the construction of the voussoirs and to explore the irregular shapes and textural variety inherent in them.
Another version of this composition is in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bensançon (D.R. Marshall, op cit., no. VC25), and several other depictions of the Basilica of Constantine were painted by both Viviano and Niccolò Codazzi.
Dr. David R. Marshall has now revised his view (D.R. Marshall, op. cit.) and has confirmed the attribution to Viviano Codazzi and Domenico Gargiulo, on the basis of a photograph (written communication, 28 February 2007).