This meticulously rendered study was first attributed to Dunouy by Whitney in the early 1990s. Few details concerning Dunouy’s early life and training are known. His legacy principally rests on his having been one of a number of artists of the French school born in the 1750s, including Valenciennes, Bidauld, and Denis, who painted directly from nature in Italy in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, thereby contributing to the dissemination of this practice as a cornerstone of modern landscape painting. Although finished paintings by Dunouy survive from as early as the 1790s, the majority of his known plein-air sketches postdate a fire that ravaged his atelier on February 23, 1803 (Anne-Elisabeth Heurtaux, email, September 4, 2012, Department of European Paintings files).
According to C. P. Landon, Dunouy visited Italy for eight years (Annales du musée et de l’école moderne des beaux-arts: Paysages et tableaux de genre, vol. 3, Paris, , p. 76). As he first exhibited subjects based on what he saw there at the Salon of 1791, it is fair to assume that he first arrived in Italy about 1783. This view evidently antedates the erection of the arch dedicated by Pope Pius VI, when still a cardinal, to the commemorate the opening of a new road from Rome in 1789, on or near the spot where the low white gate appears in the foreground. The monastery of Santa Scolastica may barely be glimpsed at lower right.
For a painting of such small size, which is a factor of its having been executed out of doors, this study evinces remarkable attention to compositional structure and to the ways in which it could be reinforced by constituent details, much in the same way that a portrait painter marries the conventions of his practice to the particular features of a sitter. Taking advantage of Subiaco’s distinctive profile, the artist divided the picture diagonally from upper left to lower right, a simple geometrical device diffused by the myriad rooflines. The artist reveled in the haphazard lines and interstices of hilltown architecture, the concomitant play of light and shadow over its complex faceting, and the distinctive punctuation of rows of windows: these features would become characteristic of works dating to Dunouy’s Neapolitan sojourn of 1810–15. It is likely that the artist here employed a camera obscura, an optical device that would enable him to draft this study’s precise and complicated linear underdrawing, much of which is visible to the naked eye (see Binda 2006; this contention was helpfully elaborated upon in conversation with Malcolm Daniel, 2011.)
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]