From the road that follows the course of the river Aniene east of Tivoli, the distinctive twin campanili of the church of San Pietro and the village of Vicovaro set against the surrounding hills look much the same today as they did in Denis’s time. Denis may have visited Vicovaro by 1787, and he received a commission for a painted view of the town in 1789 (see Branchini 2002–3, p. 156, and Lacambre 2011, p. 75). That picture is untraced, its composition unknown, and until it is indentified one cannot know whether the artist resorted to the present sketch in its development. But he certainly used it for another painting, one that is signed and dated 1797 (oil on canvas, 27 3/8 x 39 in. [69.5 x 99 cm], Paris art market). By simply modifying the contours of the mountainous ridge and lessening the contrast of light and dark in the clouds, he created a backdrop for that idealized landscape, which combines elements from a variety of sources.
A related drawing by Denis (charcoal on paper, 3 1/4 x 9 7/8 in. [8.3 x 25 cm], Wildenstein & Co., New York; Branchini 2002–3, pp. 122–23, fig. 19) depicts the same mountains seen in the distance with similar contours, suggesting that at least this portion of the drawing was executed on the same spot as the Metropolitan study, but one now enters the view through a succession of diagonal planes that includes a sort of farm in the right foreground and a town (Vicovaro?) in the middleground, far to the left of where is appears in the Metropolitan study.
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
Inscription: Signed, inscribed, and numbered (in brown ink), verso: a Vicovaro pres de Tivoly / Sn. Denis. 98
[Jacques Fischer-Chantal Kiener, Paris, until late 1980s; sold to Whitney]; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from late 1980s)
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting," May 26–September 2, 1996, no. 34 (as "Vicovaro, near Tivoli," 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. 34.
Saint Louis Art Museum. "In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting," February 21–May 18, 1997, no. 34.
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. 19).
Jeremy Strick inIn the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1996, p. 147, no. 34, ill. (color), dates it about 1800; remarks that the small town of Vicovaro lies in the mountains northeast of Tivoli; states that the composition resembles that of Bidauld's "Mountains and a Lakes" [now MMA 2003.42.4], while the paint handling is closer to that of Valenciennes or to Giroux, in a sketch painted over twenty years later, "Civitella" (private collection, Paris).
Valentina Branchini. "Simon Denis (1755–1813) in Italia: Dipinti e Disegni di Paesaggio." PhD diss., Università di Bologna, 2002–3, pp. 18–19, 118, 122–23, no. 55, ill., calls it "Vicovaro".
Geneviève Lacambre. "Two Series of Studies in Oil on Paper Numbered by Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes and Simon Denis." Studying Nature: Oil Sketches from the Thaw Collection. Ed. Jennifer Tonkovich. New York, 2011, pp. 74, 82, no. 98, calls it "Mountain Landscape at Vicovaro" and deduces that the number 98 on the verso situates it within the range of works similarly inscribed 78 through 127, whose primary motif is the earth with its vegetation.
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. 17, 45, fig. 19 (color).