Artists who trained within the Neoclassical tradition were drawn to Rome by its combination of antiquity and natural beauty, and the Colosseum offered a seemingly endless variety of naturally occurring compositions. This prospect is taken from within a desiccated upper gallery of the Colosseum, looking across its open bowl towards the remains of the amphitheater’s even more porous southwest wall, with the Palatine Hill and its ruins beyond. A distinctive feature of this study is the use of the horizontal format to frame what amounts to the stripe of a view, with a balance of detail near, far, and in-between: the whole is decidedly legible as a picture although perhaps not immediately recognizable as a portrait of the most famous monument in Rome.
When it was acquired by the Museum in 2003, this work bore a longstanding yet tentative attribution to the German painter Ernst Fries (1801–1833). There are indeed comparable views by Fries, including two drawings of 1824, The Colosseum, Rome (private collection; see Sigrid Wechssler, Ernst Fries [1801–1833]: Monographie und Werkverzeichnis, Heidelberg, 2000, p. 173, no. 152 recto) and Rome: View from the Baths of Caracalla toward San Giovanni in Laterano (Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, inv. HZ 3941; see Wechssler 2000, p. 177, no. 163). Beginning with Wechssler, however, scholars most familiar with Fries’s work do not accept the attribution (opinion forwarded by Annette Frese, email of March 17, 2011, Department of European Paintings files). Possible alternatives to Fries, for example Johann Martin von Rohden (1778–1868; suggested by Helmut Börsch-Supan, letter of August 8, 2011, Department of European Paintings files) and Josse Sebastien van den Abeele (1797–1855; suggested by Colin J. Bailey, letter of September 2, 2011, Department of European Paintings files), point to revealing parallels but are not entirely satisfactory.
This view was depicted in similar fashion by a number of artists, as seen in a wash drawing by François-Marius Granet (Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence, inv. 849.1 G 745; see Denis Coutagne, François-Marius Granet, 1775–1849: Une vie pour la peinture, exh. cat., Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence, 2008, p. 164, fig. 149) and an oil study by Louis-Léopold Robert (private collection; see Pierre Gassier, Léopold Robert, Neuchâtel, 1983, p. 98, ill.).
[2013; adapted from Miller 2013]