Caspar van Wittel

An extensive mountain landscape with a river and several travellers

Caspar van Wittel, or Gaspare Vanvitelli, was born in Amersfoort in 1653. He was first taught by the relatively unknown painter Thomas Janz van Veenendael and then by Matthias Withoos. After the French occupation of Amersfoort in 1672, van Wittel fled to Hoorn, where he would produce his first known works. He returned to Amersfoort afterwards but soon left for Rome, in 1674. There he joined the Bentvueghels, an association of Dutch and Flemish artists who worked and lived in Rome. His nicknames in the group were “piktoors” (pitch-torch) and “Gaspare dagli occhiali” (Caspar with the spectacles).

Van Wittel got married in Rome and settled down; he would remain in the city for most of the rest of his life, although he would visit most of the important Italian cities. He became a member of the Academia di San Lucca in Rome in 1711. Van Wittel was one of the first to paint the Italian topographical views known as vedute. Starting from the Dutch tradition of Italianate landscape painting, he developed his own style, producing works that were a mixture of landscape and urban architecture painting. It has been suggested he used a camera obscura for drawing his vedute. His works were very popular with Grand Tour travellers.

The present work, a mountain landscape with travellers, is believed to be an early work by van Wittel, when he had not yet fully developed his personal artistic idiom. Nevertheless, it is a highly attractive sheet, a testament to his great draughtsmanship. In the foreground, a lone horseman is galloping down a road next to the river, where several boats carrying travellers are crossing the water. In the background, ancient ruins can be made out, while on the other side of the river, several small villages adorn the mountain side. Everywhere you look, the drawing is full of life.

Artist: Caspar van Wittel (Amersfoort 1653 - 1736 Rome) (attributed)
Medium: pen and ink and wash on laid paper
Dimensions: 185 x 290 mm