A View of Bracciano
(Paul Brill)


One of the finest among his later works, Bril’s impressive View of Bracciano shows the stronghold built by the Orsini between 1470 and 1485 . The painting is very well preserved and the scene is filled with anecdotal incident. A young man humbly lifts his hat to the travellers in their carriage, while the visitors are protected from brigands by a servant holding a musket. In all likelihood this cavalcade is escorting members of the Orsini family, the owners of the estate. Their status is confirmed by the three spans of horses pulling the carriage. The vehicle suggests a movement towards the middle distance in the landscape.

The painting shows Bril’s considerable powers of observation at their best. Many details are masterfully rendered, such as the meticulously painted laundry hanging from the windows of houses in the village. Noteworthy is the subtlety with which he has given the illusion of a soft haze hanging above the lake. The alternating zones of dark and light lend the landscape a clarity of structure and also provide a convincing suggestion of depth of field. This principle was aptly described by Edward Norgate: ‘Yet one generall rule I had from my old friend, Paolo Brill, which hee said will make a Lanscape “Caminare”, that is move or waIke away, and that is by placing Darke against Light, and light against Darke. His meaning is best understood by Circumlocution, viz. that part of your Lanscape soever is light, the next adiacent ground to be proportionably darke, or shadowed, and that again second with light and then shady againe, till you come to the nearest ground, where all ends with strong and darke shadowes, to sett of all the rest’. The English connoisseur must have met Bril a few years before, during his visit to Rome in 1622, where he was acquiring works of art for his patron Thomas Howard, Earl Arundel, who, in fact, owned several paintings by Bril.

Bril and his contemporaries did not paint outdoors. However, he must have made in situ sketches of the stronghold, the lake and the surrounding village. He probably followed the same procedure with the topographical series of estates of the Mattei family, where he is documented as making drawings on the spot, which are now also lost. Unfortunately no documents relating to the commission for the View of Bracciano have yet been found. On stylistic grounds the picture may be dated shortly after 1620, since the execution is very similar to that of Landscape with Cephalus and Procris, dated 1621, from the Torlonia collection, now in the Galleria d’Arte Antica in Palazzo Barberini ( 1084). The oblong shape of the picture indicates that it was probably intended to be hung as part of a particular architectural ensemble. The picture may be the one referred to in an inventory drawn up in 1698 (see above), attributing the painting to Antonio Tempesta (1555-1633). No view of Bracciano by this artist is known and the Bril might have been given to him in error, on the basis of the prominent horses for which Tempesta is best known.

Don Paolo Giordano II, Prince Orsini (1591-1655), who is presumed to have commissioned this painting, became Duke of Bracciano in 1615 at the age of 24. He was brought up at the Medici court, where he developed a passion for music and spectacle. He travelled throughout Europe as far as Scandinavia when he must have developed his prediliction for northern artists and became friends with renowned musicians, such as Monteverdi. At the age of 34 he was portrayed in wax by Bernini. In the late 1630s the young Duke commissioned a Storm at Sea from Claude Lorraine, while Bartholomeus Breenbergh, Cornelis van Poelenburch, Pieter Mulier, and Johan Wilhelm Baur all worked under his patronage. Baur, an artist from Strasburg, drew a View of Bracciano, (now in The Chicago Art Institute) which may be compared with Bril’s work. The viewpoint, the composition and interestingly, a similar coach with three spans of horses in Baur’s presentation are similar to those in Bril’s painting. Baur might have seen Bril’s work when he too was under the patronage of Duke Paolo Giordano II.

Bril is best known for his landscapes with actual buildings and ruins rearranged by the artist into a new order. These imaginary views are true capricci, since no actual topographical situation is depicted. His View of Bracciano, however, is one of the rare examples of the master’s representation of an actual topographical location. Remarkably, the site is virtually unchanged and its beauty can be enjoyed today even though interrupted in the foreground by some infelicitous modern developments (see fig 1). Until recently the only known examples of this kind of vedute by Bril were the so called Mattei-feudi (See fig.2) of which five canvases still exist, four are now in Rome, Palazzo Barberini (mv. nos 1980-83). These topographical paintings shed new light on Bril as a virtual pioneer of vedute painting, a genre which became popular towards the end of the seventeenth century through the works of such artists as Frederic de Moucheron (1633-1686) and Gaspar van Wittel (1652-1736) and would reach its apogee in eighteenth-century Venetian painting.

29 1/3 x 64 1/4 in. (74.5 x 163.6 cm.)
Oil on canvas

Presumably commissioned by Don Paolo Giordano II, Prince Orsini (1591-1655) in the early 1620s;
Possibly the ‘Sopraporta con figura del Paese di Bracciano con cornice negra, et oro di p.mi.7 di larghezza del Tempesta’, in the 1698 inventory of Prince Flavio Orsini;
Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 28 July 1974, lot 29, ill. (for 9500 Gns. to Bracaglia);
With Salamon, Milan;
Private collection.


Luuk Pijl, ‘Gezicht op Bracciano. Paul Bril als veduteschilder’, Tableau. Fine Arts Magazine, 17/6, 1995, p.36-40;
Luuk Pijl, in exhibition catalogue Fiamminghi a Roma. 1508-1608, Paleis voor Schone kunsten, Brussel and Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome 1995, sub cat. no. 31, note 4;
Francesca Cappelletti, ‘Roma 1580-1610. Una traccia per il contributo Fiammingo alle Origini del Paesaggio’, in Natura Morta, Pittura di Paesaggio e il Collezionismo a Roma nella Prima Metà del Seicento, Universita degli Studi di Roma ‘La Sapienza’, Rome 1995-96, p. 188;
Louisa Wood Ruby, Paul Bril: The Drawings, Turnhout 1999, pp.36, 143 note 250 and 264.
Matthiesen Fine Art Ltd., & Stair Sainty Matthiesen Inc., European Paintings – Spring 2001, From 1600 – 1917 Baroque, Rococo, Romanticism, Realism, Futurism, London & New York March 2001, pp. colour plate page 10, colour detail p.12, pp. 18-20 and colour plate, p.82.


Rome, Palazzo Venezia, Il Genio di Roma, (Roman edition of the London, Royal Academy show, The Genius of Rome), May – July 2001.
London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, The Dutch Italianates, forthcoming Exhibition 25 May – 26 August 2002.

Where is It?
Acquired by the Art gallery of South Australia 2008 from The Matthiesen Gallery
Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Italian - Roman
2001-2001: An Art Odyssey (1500-1720)
Hardbound millennium catalogue with special binding with 58 colour plates and 184 black and white illustrations, 360 pages. £35 or $50 plus p.& p.

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