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Piazza del Popolo, Rome, ca. 1683

Artist: Gaspar van Wittel, Dutch, 1653 - 1736

Medium: Oil on canvas

Painting: 28 1/2 x 49 1/2 in. (72.4 x 125.7 cm)
Frame: 35 x 55 1/2 x 2 1/4 in. (88.9 x 141 x 5.7 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Hugo N. Dixon

Object Number: 54.4

On View

Andrew Hay (sold, London, April 21, 1737, lot 163, cataloged as by G. d'Ochiali, bt. Duke of Leeds); Leeds Family; Duke of Leeds, London (sale, London, Christie's, June 20, 1930, lot 48); Thomas Agnew and Sons, London, 1952; Mr. Hugo Dixon, Memphis, Tennessee, 1954

Gaspar Van Wittel was born in Utrecht and moved to Italy in 1674, where he became known by the Italian version of his name, Gaspare Vanvitelli. He lived most of his life in Rome and became famous for his vedute (views) of Rome and other Italian cities. Visitors to Rome on the Grand Tour during the 18th century sought souvenirs of their trips, creating a market for vedute like the View of the Piazza del Popolo. Vanvitelli painted this popular scene on at least five other occasions.


Most visitors from the north arriving in Rome in the 17th or 18th century entered the city from the Porta del Popolo. From this gate they gained their first view of Rome and the Piazza del Popolo, one of the city’s finest squares. Perhaps Vanvitelli initially sketched the piazza from the top of the gate, thereby offering the viewer an expansive picture of the city of Rome lying beyond the Piazza del Popolo. In the distance the Villa Medici, the Quirinal Palace, the dome of the Pantheon, and the cupola of San Andrea della Valle can be seen. In the center of the square sits the ancient Egyptian obelisk originally erected in the Circus Maximus by Augustus in 10 B.C. The obelisk was moved to this square in 1589. The parish church of Santa Maria del Popolo is just visible to the left. At the southern end of the square are the 17th-century twin churches Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria di Montesanto.


The shadows stretching out to the right indicate that this scene takes place in the serene light of the early morning. Vanvitelli is famous for the soft, harmonious colors and subtle atmosphere seen here. Charming details of life in the city have been captured: smoke rising from a chimney, laundry hanging from an open window, flaking paint covering ancient walls, and the beggars, dandies, prelates, and tradesmen who move about the city.