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Art in Eighteenth-Century Rome


French School

Interior of the Colosseum

oil on paper, mounted on canvas
10 1/4 x 14 1/8 inches
26 x 36 cm



Alvar González-Palacios, Rome, until 2005
Private Collection, Germany

‘In the evening, we arrived at the Colosseum, as it was already getting dark. When you look at it, everything else seems small again. It is so large that you cannot hold the image in your soul; you only remember it as smaller, and when you return to it, it appears larger once again.’
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey, 11 November 1786

More than any other monument, the Colosseum represents Ancient Rome, even Antiquity as a whole. Accordingly, it has an iconic history of influence. Until the 4th century, it was depicted on coins, and even 1000 years later, it appears on the reverse side of a gold bullion coin commemorating the coronation of Louis IV on 17 January 1328, along with the Senate Palace and the Roman city wall (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Münzkabinett, 18239302).

After serving as a quarry for the Roman urban population during the Middle Ages, the Colosseum became a major attraction of the Grand Tour for the European elite starting from the 16th century. This is documented, for example, in the famous self-portrait by Maarten van Heemskerck (1498–1574) with the Colosseum in the background (Fitzwilliam Museum, 103). The surrounding hills of the city offered a wide variety of different views: the gardens of the Colle Oppio, the ruins of the Domus Aurea, the Farnese Gardens, and the Campidoglio. Notable examples include the capriccio by Claude Lorrain (Art Gallery of South Australia, 857P16) or Giovanni Paolo Panini (Fitzwilliam Museum, PD.107-1992), as well as the romantic views of the Colosseum by Franz Ludwig Catel (Art Institute of Chicago, 2013.1094; Hermitage Museum, ГЭ-7562). Of particular importance, however, are the innovative depictions by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, which were certainly also known to the anonymous French artist who created the present oil sketch (Musée du Louvre, RF 1696).

In such an international environment as Rome in the early-19th century, it is not easy to determine the authorship of an unsigned and unmarked oil sketch. The following arguments speak in favor of a French painter as the author of this unconventional motif.

Instead of an overall composition, he is interested in a narrowly defined view of the Colosseum’s outer gallery. It was chosen in such a way that the viewer looks into the convex alignment of the arcature without being able to stray outwards. All attention is focused on the reproduction of the indirectly entering daylight.❖

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