WALS, Goffredo
(b. ca. 1600, Köln, d. ca. 1639, Calabria)

Landscape with Christ and St Peter

Oil on copper, diameter 28,5 cm
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

Although modest in scale, this type of painting is of great importance as an early example of a work dominated by a landscape, which heralded a new interest in such subject matter. Wals was born in Cologne and travelled to Italy, where he initially settled in Naples, and found employment colouring engravings. He later emerged as a landscape specialist, working in oil and gouache, and painted in Rome, Genoa and nearby Savona. He studied with Agostino Tassi, but is chiefly remembered because he taught the greatest of all French landscape painters, Claude Lorrain, whose ability to create harmonious compositions, must in part be indebted to the precedent of Wals.

Wals is thought to have died in an earthquake in Calabria. Although his work was admired during his lifetime and is recorded in distinguished collections, it was neglected by art historians before being re-evaluated from the 1960s onwards. He favoured small circular landscapes (other examples are in the Ashmolean and Fitzwilliam Museums) and a subdued palette, often paring the composition down to a series of distinct horizontal planes. The figures in this painting may be intended as Christ and Saint Peter, although the identification is by no means certain. The building is possibly the Tor di Quinto, a structure Wals depicted in other works, which survives by the river Tiber, near Rome.