WITTEL, Caspar Andriaans van
(b. 1653, Amersfoort, d. 1736, Roma)
Rome, the Tiber near the Porto di Ripa Grandec. 1711
Oil on canvas, 47 x 98 cm
Galleria dell'Accademia di San Luca, Rome
Approximately half of Van Wittel's Roman vedute are views either of or along the Tiber. Made at fifteen different locations, most of them were repeated at least twice, as in this case. The present view represents the southernmost point Van Wittel ever painted along the Tiber. It was taken looking towards the north from the eastern bank, opposite the Porta Portese. To the left, across the river, we can see the quay known as the Porto di Ripa Grande, with the two long stairways and the customs building, behind which the small tower of Santa Maria della Torre is just visible. Further along the same bank of the Tiber, right before the river bend, lies the Palazzina Pamphilj and its garden, obscuring the Ponte Rotto. Most of the complex was demolished in the late nineteenth century to make way for the Ospizio di San Michele, except for the customs building, which was razed in 191415.
The tall tower on the horizon in the middle of the composition stands on the Capitoline; to its right are the Torre delle Milizie, the dome of Santi Luca e Martina, the Quirinal and the campanile of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. On the right riverbank near the Via della Marmorata, marked by a few blocks of marble, is an array of houses of various shapes and sizes, gardens and places of work. Lying in the Tiber below, there are the remains of a bridge that has long since collapsed and, further in the distance, those of the old Ponte Sublicio. There is almost no traffic on the river. A galley and two two-masters are moored at the Porto di Ripa Grande, while some rowboats, a large, flat-bottomed barge and an impressive rowing-sloop can be noticed. Among the figures strolling on the right a few monks can be distinguished as well as a gentleman who looks rather Dutch.
This painting is a good example of Van Wittel's ability to group all the various elements of a sweeping panorama into one harmonious and well-ordered whole. A recurrent feature in his panoramas is the plateau in the foreground or a section of a wall or a cliff, enlivened by a small group of figures. One of them, in this case the man with the oar, serves to lead the spectator's eye into the composition. Van Wittel's vantage-point is generally rather high, according to the traditional Dutch formula he had learned from his teacher Withoos. In the foreground the painter looks down in this case at the men in the rowboats and then his eye is drawn to the middle of the composition and finally into the background. The painter induces the viewer, through the guide with the oar, to revolve a quarter circle from left to right, to survey the entire panorama.
Finally, Van Wittel's extraordinary ability to represent water, with its shifting, shimmering reflections and almost palpable wetness, should be mentioned. This effect, unequalled by any other painter, is especially characteristic of Van Wittel's works from the early years of the eighteenth century.