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Art in Eighteenth-Century Rome


Gaspar van Wittel, known as Vanvitelli
Amersfoort 1653–1736 Rome

The ‘Casino’ of Cardinal Annibale Albani on the Via Aurelia

oil on canvas
29 1/8 x 53 1/8 inches
74 x 135 cm
signed and dated, lower left, upon the wall: ‘Gaspar Van Wittel 1719′



Cardinal Annibale Albani (1682–1751), Rome
Private Collection, United Kingdom



Maria B. G. Borsoi, La quadreria Albani a Roma al tempo di Clemente XI, Rome, 2018, pp. 68 and 160, reproduced fig. 59.
Alessandro Cremona in Vittorio Sgarbi, ed., Da Artemisia a Hackert. La collezione di un antiquario, Foligno, 2019, exh. cat., pp. 132–33, reproduced no. 61.
Carolina T. Kowalczyk, ‘Da Van Wittel a Vanvitelli. Dal concepimento della veduta alla realizzazione architettonica. Elementi d’architettura nell’opera grafica di padre e figlio’, Critica d’Arte, Lucca, July–December 2020, nos. 7–8, pp. 58–59, reproduced fig. 3.
Dario Pasquini, ‘Immagini inedite di ville “minori” di Roma’, Studi sul Settecento Romano, Rome, 2020, pp. 382 and 403, reproduced fig. 2.


Archival Source

This painting is listed in the 1724 inventory of Cardinal Annibale Albani, Inventario dei Beni Albani, number 551, ‘altro simile la veduta della Villa dell’E.mo Sig.re Cardinal Albani al Pidocchio alta p.mi tre, largacinque e mezzo con cornice dorata. Pittura del soprado. Gasparo’.

Born in 1652/53 in Amersfoort, near Utrecht, Gaspar van Wittel moved to Rome as a landscape painter in 1674 where he was known as Vanvitelli. There, he enjoyed the patronage of some of the most prominent Italian families of the period—the Colonna, Sacchetti, Albani and Ottoboni in Rome and the Caracciolo d’Avellino in Naples—and was elected to the prestigious Accademia di San Luca. Vanvitelli’s considerable importance lies in his pioneering role in the genre of view painting in Italy. Using a camera obscura to make detailed topographical drawings with a panoramic sweep, Vanvitelli painted dramatic views of the main sights of Rome which were to become the basis for later compositions by Panini and others. Having established his credentials as a view painter, Vanvitelli traveled all over Italy, notably to Venice and Naples painting vedute which were to inspire similar subjects by Carlevaris and Canaletto among many others.

The present view is a unique treatment of this subject by the artist which depicts a specific visit by Pope Clement XI Albani (1649–1721) to the ‘casino’ outside Rome owned by his nephew Cardinal Annibale, in 1719. Vanvitelli and Cardinal Annibale Albani knew each other well; Vanvitelli had joined the Cardinal on a trip to the Albani birthplace, Urbino, the year before, and Annibale went on to purchase at least 24 paintings from him. The building portrayed here is not to be confused with the much grander Villa Albani built by his younger brother, Alessandro, between 1747 and 1767 to house his own famous collection of antiquities. The identification of this painting as a view of Cardinal Annibale Albani’s ‘casino’ has only been made possible by the recent discovery of a 1724 Albani inventory in which it is mentioned. The identification of this as the Albani ‘casino’ is corroborated by the presence of the traditional Albani heraldic device of three hills and a star on the wrought iron garden gates. A photograph taken in 1910 is the last known record of the small villa, already then without its belvedere, but otherwise unchanged with the two square carriage gates on one side and the rusticated stonework around the first storey still visible (see Pasquini, op. cit.).

To the left of the building, we see platoons of mounted guards blocking off the entrance to the main street while some other guards at the other end, are denying access to coaches and pedestrians. The Pope’s Swiss guards, shown wearing their famous blue, red, and yellow uniform, and the red sedan chair, visible across the yard identify this event as a papal visit. The man standing at the window is clearly the Pope as is evident from his conspicuous papal crosier. ‘Papa Albani’ is depicted standing at a window in sunny daylight, caught in a moment of contemplation, whilst looking ahead at a well-groomed garden, where he can see groups of clergymen and laymen in conversation and others strolling at their ease around the grounds of his nephew’s estate.

This scene echoes that of the View of the Convent of San Paolo ad Albano, signed and dated 1710, now at the Galleria Palatina, Florence (inv. 9291/1890; fig. 1), in which Vanvitelli depicts Pope Clement XI, similarly, standing at a window overlooking a bustling scene of coaches, people and guards. That painting was painted to celebrate another visit by the Albani Pope to the Roman countryside, in that case at the behest of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni.

Fig. 1 Gaspar van Wittel, known as Vanvitelli, View of the Convent of San Paolo and Albano Laziale, 1710, oil on canvas, Galleria Palatina ed Appartamenti Reali, Palazzo Pitti, Florence; inv. 9291/1890.

The ‘casino’ here is located to the west of the Basilica of St. Peter, beyond the Vatican walls; the point of view is unusual as it seems to be painted from below the city of Rome with a dramatic vista unfolding above. As a result, we can identify the fortified towers of the Leonine Walls, the distant bell towers of S. Trinità dei Monti and the towers of the Villa Medici, and on the right, the Villa Lante sul Gianicolo and the Villa Aurelia. The villa depicted in this painting was purchased by the Cardinal in 1713 and remained in his possession until 1746. The so-called ‘casino’ Albani was, by the standards of Roman villas, a relatively modest country retreat.

Dario Pasquini sees this view as a charming portrayal of the 18th-century delight in the culture of villeggiatura, escaping to the countryside for holiday or relaxation. The ‘villa’ depicted here illustrates the fashion in the 18th century for rural architecture to be more restrained, with the garden an important complement to the house. Unlike the grand princely villas, a ‘casino’ was intended as a real country home, a place of ‘retirement’, based somewhat on the English model. Many nobles, and wealthy cardinals chose to invest in such projects: beautifying preexisting vineyards and country estates, and continuing a Roman tradition, dating back to antiquity, of abandoning urban pomp and bombast in favor of informal rustic charm. Of course, in the scene depicted here, like that in the 1710 visit of Pope Clement XI to Cardinal Ottoboni’s country residence, informality is a relative term. Cardinal Annibale Albani’s ‘casino’ may well be a modest building, but the size of the papal entourage and the very fact that this visit was recorded by one of the Albani family’s favorite artists suggest that it was anything but a low-key event. Not only is this painting a delightful depiction of Roman society mingling in a high-quality landscaped garden, but it is also a unique visual document which records a view of a Rome now completely effaced as a result of the encroaches of modern urbanization. The only other known surviving record of this site is a 17th-century drawing by Sebastiaen Vrancx, now preserved in the collection of the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth (1106 recto). Of the ‘casino’ of Cardinal Annibale Albani depicted here only the original entrance gate on the Via Aurelia survives. ❖

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