Capriccio with St. Paul's and Old London Bridge

Antonio Joli (Italian, Modena 1700–1777 Naples)
Oil on canvas
42 x 47 in. (106.7 x 119.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Alice Bradford Woolsey, 1970
Accession Number:
Not on view
A pupil of Paolo Panini in Rome, Joli was active as a scene painter in northern Italy and especially in Venice (1732–42), where he was influenced by the work of Canaletto. From 1744 until 1748 he worked in London at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket and also produced topographical paintings. The present picture combines the two genres; the imaginary foreground is inspired by antiquity, while in the background is a view of the north bank of the Thames with St. Paul's cathedral, the Tower of London, and Old London Bridge.
Joli, born in Modena in 1700, received his early training there as a scene painter and then studied in Rome with Giovanni Paolo Panini. In 1732 he was in Venice painting scenery for the Teatro San Samuele. Thereafter he is recorded as the scenographer for some forty operas performed in Venice, Padua, Modena, and Reggio Emilia. Joli was principally employed from 1744 to 1748 at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, London, and while there decorated a room in the house of the theater manager and painted two London views for the wife of the second duke of Richmond. In 1749 he was invited to Madrid to work at the royal theater of the Buen Retiro. He returned to Venice and in 1756 is listed among the founders of the academy as a painter of perspectives, landscapes, and ornaments. He was in Naples in 1759, and settled there in 1762 as the scenographer at the Teatro San Carlo and view painter to Carlo III and Fernando IV.

This capriccio with London and the Thames combines contemporary topographical painting with motifs from the past in a design that could have been adapted for the theater. It thus displays the various aspects of Joli’s practice. Presumably, as suggested by the shape, it was painted as an overdoor or overmantle while he was in England. There are two other views by Joli with roughly the same subject matter, as well as many horizontal canvases depicting either the north or south bank of the river and incorporating either Old London Bridge, as here, or the newly completed Westminster Bridge, which on account of settlement problems would open to traffic only in 1750.

The fanciful setting offers the architecture of a baroque crossing combined not only with an oculus but also with pilasters and wall surfaces incorporating ancient sculptures displayed in niches, and the whole is arranged as if it were an overlook at the center of a pedestrian bridge crossing the Thames. Such imaginary combinations are a typical expression of eighteenth-century taste. The landmarks, left to right, are the distinctive water stairs leading to Somerset House Terrace, St. Paul’s cathedral, Old London Bridge with its shops and houses, and, at a greater distance, the tower of St. Saviour’s on the Surrey side. The arrangement of the bell towers of the city churches is more or less accurate but owing to the shape of the canvas, the view has been compressed so that they appear closer together than in fact they are. The costumes are contemporary, with the children presented as miniaturized adults.

[Katharine Baetjer 2016]
Mrs. Baxendale, London (sold to Farr); [Daniel H. Farr, New York, until 1924, as by Samuel Scott; sold for $3,000 to Woolsey]; Judge and Mrs. John M. Woolsey, New York (1924–his d. 1945); Alice Bradford (Mrs. John M.) Woolsey, New York (1945–d. 1970)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.

London. Somerset House. "London and The Thames: Paintings of Three Centuries," July 6–October 9, 1977, no. 21.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Eighteenth-Century Woman," December 12, 1981–September 5, 1982, unnumbered cat. (p. 52).

London. Barbican Art Gallery. "The Image of London: Views by Travellers and Emigrés, 1550–1920," August 6–October 18, 1987, no. 68.

Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne," June 23–November 12, 2006, no. 6.

Barcelona. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. "Grandes maestros de la pintura europea de The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York: De El Greco a Cézanne," December 1, 2006–March 4, 2007, no. 4.

Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, p. 36, pl. 39, as the north bank of the Thames seen through the arcades of an imaginary late baroque building, painted by Joli about 1744.

Harley Preston. London and The Thames: Paintings of Three Centuries. Exh. cat., Somerset House. London, 1977, unpaginated, no. 21, ill., notes that such combinations of real and imaginary motifs were favored for overdoors and overmantels.

Malcolm Warner. The Image of London: Views by Travellers and Emigrés. Exh. cat., Barbican Art Gallery. London, 1987, pp. 13, 126, no. 68, fig. 1, colorpl. 16, maintains that Joli showed London in as classical a light as possible, as the new Rome, and describes the setting as a skeletal version of a church crossing flanked by Roman sculptures.

Luigi Salerno. I pittori di vedute in Italia (1580–1830). Rome, 1991, pp. 251–52, no. 28, ill. (color), suggests that framing the view accentuates the effect of depth.

Jane Farrington in Canaletto & England. Exh. cat., Birmingham Gas Hall Exhibition Gallery. Birmingham, 1993, p. 102.

Roberto Middione. Antonio Joli. Soncino, 1995, pp. 21, 70, fig. 3.

Mario Manzelli. Antonio Joli: opera pittorica. Venice, 1999, pp. 129–30, no. C.20, fig. 118.

Katharine Baetjer in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2006, pp. 48–50, no. 6, ill. (color) [Catalan ed., Barcelona, 2006, pp. 34–35, no. 4, ill. (color)].

Ralph Toledano. Antonio Joli: Modena 1700–1777 Napoli. Turin, 2006, pp. 230–31, no. L.IV, ill., dates it 1746–47.