View of the Basilica of Constantine from the Palatine, Rome
Charles Rémond (French, Paris 1795–1875 Paris)
Oil on paper, laid down on canvas
12 3/4 x 10 5/8 in. (32.4 x 27 cm)
The Whitney Collection, Promised Gift of Wheelock Whitney III, and Purchase, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. McVeigh, by exchange, 2003
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 805
For the present work, Rémond—who had been awarded the 1821 Prix de Rome in the category of historical landscape painting—set up his easel on the Palatine Hill, overlooking the Forum. Depictions of this ancient site were abundant, but Rémond set his apart by including only the rightmost of the three remaining vaults of the fourth-century Basilica of Constantine. With its careful symmetry and free but assured brushwork, this view combines the careful composition of a finished painting with the sketchy finish of a plein-air study.
In 1821 Rémond, a pupil of Jean Victor Bertin, won the second Prix de Rome in the category of historical landscape painting, enabling him to study for four years in Italy. In a series of tableautins (little paintings) that he painted there, he developed an approach to painting that combines sketching from nature and classical composition, of which this is a highly successful example. Owing to its loose brushwork, View of the Basilica of Constantine from the Palatine, Rome gives every indication of having been painted out of doors, quickly and in a single sitting. The liquid appearance of the impasted paint perfectly conveys the fabric of Rome: limpid atmosphere, ubiquitous masonry, and unexpected lushness.
Essentially all that remains of the fourth-century Basilica of Constantine are the three contiguous vaults of its south aisle, which are open to the Forum and the Palatine Hill, where Rémond positioned himself for this view. Rather than depict the basilica’s monumental shell in its entirety, however, he excised the rightmost vault from its larger context, leaving it virtually impossible to identify without specialized knowledge of the site. This fragment of a fragment, which fully occupies the lower left quadrant of the picture surface, is thus an unconventional foundation on which to build a composition.
Rémond undoubtedly placed his easel where he did because the prospect offered not one vanishing point but two, which diverge: the first terminates in the vault at left, while the second continues into the open landscape at right, so that the symmetry of the composition is reinforced despite the difference in the respective depths of field. (The grassy foregound continues up the right edge, working together with the Basilica to formulate a repoussoir that frames the right half of the view.) Moreover, as the approaching clouds stretch across the entire width of the picture, they further unify its lower half.
Why employ such a complicated, downright Cartesian spatial construction in the service of a painting that is ostensibly a sketch? In fact Rémond made a cognate of this view, and it is possible that the second one is a replica that he painted in his studio as a cabinet picture intended for a collector. (The other is in a private collection, Paris; see Philip Conisbee, Painting from Nature: The Tradition of Open-Air Oil Sketching from the 17th to 19th Centuries, exh. cat., Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 1980, p. 26, no. 33, ill. in color on front cover.) Its size notwithstanding, the painting exemplifies the artist’s ambition to satisfy a growing taste for such works.
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
[Jacques Fischer-Chantal Kiener, Paris, until 1981; sold in March to Whitney]; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1981)
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting," May 26–September 2, 1996, no. 76 (as "View from the Palatine," lent by a private collection, New York).
Brooklyn Museum. "In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting," October 11, 1996–January 12, 1997, no. 76.
Saint Louis Art Museum. "In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting," February 21–May 18, 1997, no. 76.
Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art. "The Romantic Prospect: Plein Air Painters, 1780–1850," June 22–August 15, 2004, no. 27 (as "View from the Palatine, Rome").
Sydney. Art Gallery of New South Wales. "Plein-air Painting in Europe, 1780–1850," September 4–October 31, 2004, no. 27.
Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria. "Plein-air Painting in Europe, 1780–1850," November 19, 2004–January 16, 2005, no. 27.
The Hague. Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis. "Dreaming of Italy," March 11–June 25, 2006, no. 34 (as "View from the Palatine in Rome").
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850," January 22–April 21, 2013, unnumbered cat. (fig. 44).
Peter Galassi. Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical-Landscape Tradition. New Haven, 1991, pp. 109, 113, colorpl. 134, dates it 1821–25; states that Rémond "rejected the panoramic scope of topographical reportage" by including only one of the three vaults of the Basilica of Constantine.
Jeremy Strick inIn the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1996, p. 205, no. 76, ill. (color), dates it 1821–25; mentions that the Palatine Hill was the site of the earliest Roman settlements and the location of ancient Rome's most important monuments, thus a great place from which landscape artists could sketch; remarks that this view looks northeast from the vault of the Basilica of Constantine, to the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, and beyond to the Sabine hills; notes that a second version of the composition is in a private collection in France.
Vincent Pomarède inLa donation Jacques Petithory au musée Bonnat, Bayonne: Objets d'art, sculptures, peintures, dessins. Ed. Pierre Rosenberg. Exh. cat.Paris, 1997, p. 130, (as "Vue depuis le Palatin"; locates it in a private collection; probably this work).
Yukitaka Kohari inPlein-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1850. Exh. cat., Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art. Shizuoka, 2004, pp. 72–73, no. 27, ill. (color), dates it 1821/26.
Henk van Os. Dreaming of Italy. Exh. cat., Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 2006, pp. 84, 126, no. 34, fig. 27 (color), dates it 1821–25; cites it as an example of the informal oil sketches produced by Rémond in Rome, in contrast to the formulaic studio landscapes he painted in Paris.
Asher Ethan Miller inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 7, 296, no. 5, ill. (color and black and white), dates it 1821–25.
John House. "Impressionism and the Open-Air Oil Sketch." Studying Nature: Oil Sketches from the Thaw Collection. Ed. Jennifer Tonkovich. New York, 2011, p. 98 n. 3.
Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), pp. 37–38, 47, fig. 44 (color).