The Porto di Ripetta, Rome
(Gaspar van Wittel called Vanvitelli)


1652/53 Amersfoort – Rome 1736

The Dutchman Gaspar Van Wittel was the first painter to make a speciality of vedute painting and to popularise the genre which in settecento Venice created the vogue for paintings firstly by Carlevaris and then later by Canaletto and Bellotto. Van Wittel probably arrived in Rome in the Jubilee year of 1675. He settled in the city until his death, but made short trips to Florence, Bologna and Venice, culminating in a two year stay in Naples. He was an apprentice to Mathias Withoos, a painter of landscapes and woodland scenes and the occasional view of a city. The first dated work by Gaspar Van Wittel is a View of Piazza del Popolo (Berlin, Staatliche Museum), dated 1680, while the last is a View of Ponte di Augusto in the Colonna Collection of 1732. In Rome he painted mainly topographical views as well as capriccii (called ‘vedute ideate’) for many important collectors but the Colonna princes were certainly his major clients. At the end of the Settecento, their collection contained more than one hundred works of the master: views of their land around Rome, views of Venice, Naples, Rome, Florence, Vaprio d’Adda, Le Isole Borromee and not least the capriccii. Beside the Colonna one of the major collectors of Van Wittel was the Viceroy of Naples, the Duke of Medinaceli who had invited Van Wittel and his family to work for him in Naples in 1699. In the following two years the artist painted around thirty-five views for the Spanish nobleman.

The most famous of his sons, Luigi Vanvitelli, the architect of Reggia di Caserta, was born in Naples. English and French travellers passing through Rome purchased works directly from Gaspar Van Wittel and it is these paintings that are conserved in their original collections as in the case of the Earl of Leicester at Holkham Hall. Van Wittel may be said to have set the Settecento fashion for English travellers to buy views of the city that they visited while on their Grand Tour in Italy.
View of the Porto di Ripetta

Oil on canvas
30 5/16 x 68 7/8 in. (77 x 175cm.)

PROVENANCE: Borghese collection. In 1832 in the possession of Prince Francesco Borghese (1776-1839);
passed to Louise Anne Marie Adèle dei Principi Borghese (1812-1838) on the occasion of her marriage in 1829 to Henri-Victorien de Rochechouart, Marquis de Mortemart; thereafter to her descendents;
Matthiesen Fine Art Ltd, London and Stair Sainty Matthiesen Inc, New York, 2002;
from whom acquired by a Private Collector.

This splendid painting by Gaspar van Wittel, depicts a View of the Porto di Ripetta (Frontispiece foldout). It is an important historical document of one of the most fascinating areas of ‘Roma moderna’. The Porto di Ripetta had been designed by Alessandro Specchi between 1703 and 1706 but was demolished in 1890. In the summer of 1703, Pope Clement XI Albani (1700-1721) ordered the construction of a port in Rome located between the church of San Rocco (seen in the painting on the left – Fig. 1) and the small church of San Gregorio dei Muratori (seen on the right – Fig. 2). There already was a landing stage on the river bank but lacking any jetties or quays or even steps to enable people arriving by boat to climb to street level. The street itself was heaped with merchandise from Sabina in Lazio and from Umbria – coal, wine, oil and other comestibles from the countryside as well as timber for building – all of it brought up the Tiber by boat and then distributed throughout Rome. Prior to 1703 the area was nothing more than a rough landing place of beaten earth – as can be clearly seen in the engraving executed by Alessandro Specchi which includes a view of the site as it appeared before the building of the new port (Fig. 3). In his Lettera… in encomio della Nuova Ripa (Letter… in praise of the New River Bank), written in 1705, Agostino Maria Taja states (the motive for the pope’s decision) that Clement XI, in his goodness, ordered the building work to be carried out because the landing place was so inaccessible that dockers and sailors used often to lose their footing and drown. In addition to this charitable motive, there were, however, other, more aesthetic reasons connected with the ‘decency of the city’ which persuaded the pope to undertake the work. Until this time foreigners coming to visit Saint Peter’s from the north would enter the city through the Porta Flaminia and proceed along the streets bordering the Tiber. At the Ripetta, in the area between the churches of San Rocco and San Girolamo degli Schiavoni, they would have to thread their way through cumbersome heaps of merchandise of all kinds and huge piles of lumber. The goods would have been unloaded from boats and dumped in disorderly piles on the roadway, which itself had never been paved.

Clement XI requested ‘a comely and well proportioned proposal for the new Construction of this Port.’ Monsignore Niccolò (del) Giudice (Naples 1660-Rome 1743), president of the Tribunale delle Strade, had already dashed off an ‘elegant Drawing on paper, comprising the whole endeavour in all its parts, as handsomely laid out as a whole as in the symmetry of its parts, raised up and elevated.’ This was the starting point for a competition in which all the best architects in Rome were to take part. The plan finally selected was by Alessandro Specchi (Rome 1668-1729), a young pupil of Carlo Fontana, who was just beginning his career. None of the names of the other architects who took part in the competition are known. The Porto di Ripetta was Specchi’s first important commission and it appears that the collaboration with Monsignor (del) Giudice was highly profitable since the partners later worked together again on the Cappella Albani in San Sebastiano Fuori le Mura and on the restoration of the Pantheon. The prelate also sponsored Specchi’s project for the stairway of La Trinità dei Monti, in the late 1720s, which was eventually built by Francesco de Sanctis.

One of the most interesting aspects of the preliminary phase of the enterprise regards the President of Roads (Presidente delle Strade), Niccolò (del) Giudice, who ‘although well able to set this undertaking in train, thanks to the subjects he had studied in his youth, in particular the mathematical sciences and mechanics… Nevertheless took the greatest pains not only to listen to the opinions of the most renowned architects in Rome, in order to get the planned edifice off to a good start, but also talked on the spot, then in a full congregation, to the Merchants of the Ripetta, and to the porters and to the most experienced sailors of Ripa Grande; he desired to discover as well as to make note of their feelings regarding any difficulties which might be encountered in the future, either in the prosecution of their work or in its completion’. In other words, it was not until he had gathered the opinions of the people directly involved in the scheme, or who would be working there, ‘Merchants of the Ripetta, Porters and Sailors of the Ripa Grande’, that the President formed a ‘a general Idea of what needed to be done with the site.’

In February 1703 an earthquake damaged Rome and the pope granted permission for the travertine marble which fell from the Colosseum to be used in the construction of the port. On 23 July 1703, Francesco Valesio noted in his diary that: ‘His Holiness has granted for the construction of Ripetta the travertine marble which collapsed when the Colosseum was destroyed by earthquake; the people of Rome have already negotiated the sale of this marble. To the same end, marble panels discovered when the foundations of the house being built by Marchese Serlupi were being dug have been purchased. Now work on the above mentioned Porto di Ripetta is moving forward apace, caissons having been constructed to hold back the water; the caissons have been fixed to an ancient wall of untold length which has been declared a ruin. The new wall is fourteen spans wide and seven high’. Naturally one of the first problems to be resolved was the likelihood of a rise in the level of the river and the necessity of protecting its banks. On 13 July 1703, Valesio describes in his diary the beginning of the building work: ‘The Tribunal of Roads having raised the advance from seven to eight thousand scudi, the decision was taken to spend this money in constructing some kind of port at the Ripetta; here continuous erosion by the river had made the river bank almost unusable. Work began this morning.’ Indeed, work proceeded so rapidly that the first payments were made to the master masons in that same month of July. Thanks to Agostino Taja’s very detailed description of the great pontifical commission we even know the name of the ‘foreman of the Masons’, Pietro Giacomo Patriarchi, whose name appears in the text beside that of the much more celebrated architect, Alessandro Specchi.

Thanks to Monsignor (del) Giudice, the new port was planned with the church of San Girolamo degli Schiavoni as its focal point. However, the area towards the Porta del Popolo was less wide than the area on the other side, towards the Collegio Clementino. In order to make the new landing stage symmetrical the prelate persuaded Prince Marcantonio Borghese, owner of the land towards the Clementino, to make a handsome gift of a small piece of land. By May 1704 work on the port, begun in the July of the previous year, was almost finished apart from the customs house. An announcement made on 2 May 1704 reads: ‘Feast of St Athanasius. His Holiness went to the Chiesa dei Greci to celebrate a low Mass; as he passed the Ripetta he was able to see that the Port was finished’. On 2 August of the same year another announcement states: ‘The construction of the Ripetta is almost complete, but to embellish it further a new structure is being built which will serve as the customs house and warehouse. Meanwhile yesterday a large stone bearing an inscription to the reigning pope was raised by means of a rope and was to be placed in a specially prepared spot; alas the rope broke and the stone fell and was reduced to rubble’. In the early months of 1704 work began on a fountain with two dolphins and the Albani coat of arms designed by the sculptor Filippo Bai and located inside the semi-circular part of the new port. The pope had given specific instructions that the water, ‘drinking water for animals’, should be piped from the Trevi aqueduct. The engraved stone in between the two fountains bears the date 1704 (Fig. 4). This fountain, ‘in the marine style’, formed of ‘shells and of rocks piled up together’ and placed within a semi-circular area, was constructed between February and September 1704. Shortly afterwards two tall columns were erected, designed to monitor the water level and signal any rise in the level of the river. The customs house was finished during 1705, delayed by disputes between the ministers assigned to the customs and the Presidenza delle Strade. On 2 May 1705, Valesio wrote, ‘Today we celebrated the feast of St Athanasius and at one o’clock His Holiness went to the church of St Athanasius, which is the Greek church, and there he celebrated low Mass. Thence he continued to the new port of the Ripetta where, having descended from his carriage, he visited the newly built Customs House. His Holiness was greeted there by Monsignor Del Giudice, President of Roads, who had prepared a sumptuous refreshment of chocolate, mineral waters and sweetmeats for the nobility, and wine and cheese for the Swiss Guards and the grooms’. Taja described the new building as follows: ‘The Customs House consists of, and is divided into, four storeys of apartments, with those below to be used as warehouses; there are terraces above the river and fountains with their washing troughs’.

Rome possessed three different customs houses, in the Dogana di Terra, in the Dogana di Ripa Grande and in the Dogana di Ripetta. They were all built between the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth. In 1695 Francesco Fontana transformed the former Adrianeo, on the site of today’s Piazza di Pietra, into the Dogana (customs house) di Terra. In 1697 the customs house of the Ripa Grande, at the Porta Portese, was rebuilt by Mattia de’Rossi and Carlo Fontana. The final customs check point, for monitoring merchandise arriving in Rome and collecting taxes on it (dazio), was the new one at the Ripetta.

The pope kept a constant eye on building work at the port, visiting the site frequently. Work was completed by May 1706, in a relatively short time. The 1706 version of the medal struck annually by Ermenegildo Hamerani bears the profile of Clement XI on the verso and a view of the port on the recto (Fig. 5A & B). These medals were issued for each year of the pontificate and illustrated the event which the pope considered to be of greatest significance in that year.

Specchi’s design for the port echoes Borromini’s work with flights of steps as the most significant feature. Curved ramps and footways, designed to facilitate the descent of heavily laden porters and horses, follow the semi-circular line of the central bastion and join the port area, devoted almost exclusively to the loading and unloading of freight brought by boat along the river, to the surrounding urban area with its churches and private palaces. The design made an important contribution to the urban development of ‘modern Rome’ was to serve as a model for the staircase leading up to the church of Trinità dei Monti, known as the Spanish Steps, built by Francesco De Sanctis two decades later.

Specchi’s extraordinary architectural endeavour regrettably had a short life but a nineteenth century print and a photograph document how it looked before ‘modernisation’ ( Figs. 6A & B). The port was visually transformed in 1877-78 when a disfiguring iron bridge (demolished only a few years later) was built immediately in front of the semi-circle ( Fig.7). The metal bridge was the first of its kind in Rome and was designed to link the old city, the former Campomarzio, with the so-called ‘Castello meadows’, an area where vines were grown and which had managed to stay green. Between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, however, this patch of green was completely built over. The final blow came with the total destruction of the port in 1890, when a wall was built right along the Tiber to save the city from the high water which flooded it almost every year. Very little remains of the complex designed by Specchi. Still standing as eternal memorials to his achievement are the two columns measuring the height of the water as well as a part of the fountain in a small space opposite the Ponte Cavour, at the end of the present Via Tomacelli.

Our main source of information for the work on the Porto di Ripetta is the contemporary account left by Agostino Maria Taja, a scholar and canon of Sant’Angelo in Pescheria, entitled Lettera, e poetici componimenti in ragguaglio, e in encomio presso al sepolcro de’ Cesari in Roma ridotta per intendimento, e per ordine… di Papa Clemente XI a foggia di sontuoso Navale, Nella Presidenza edilizia di Monsignor Niccolò Giudice Chierico di Camera L’anno MDCCIV Della Nuova Ripa. It was printed in Rome in 1705 with 56 pages of text and 25 pages of commemorative poems, epigrams and odes by various authors. The text consists of a panegyric to Cardinal Francesco (del) Giudice, archbishop of Monreale and viceroy of Sicily, plus a brief account of the history of the building. The real ‘Report on the building of the new port’, which occupies twenty pages of the volume and is dated 1 April 1705, includes an engraved folding plate with a large plan of the port to accompany and illustrate the text (Fig.8). The long dedication in the title naturally includes the name of the cardinal’s nephew, the Niccolò (del) Giudice who had the original idea for the design and supervised the building work. He was also one of Taja’s friends.

When work on the port was finished, Alessandro Specchi also produced a splendid engraving divided over three plates, dedicated to the same cardinal (Fig. 3). It depicts the admirable redesigning of the port area with its semi-circular centre and two lateral wings. The view is taken from the villa belonging to the Altoviti family on the opposite bank of the Tiber. Below the main view, there is a plan of the new Ripetta and a long dedicatory inscription, while at the sides there are images of the area before the rebuilding of the port and a view of the port from San Girolamo degli Schiavoni. The fountain in the centre of the semi-circle, which was almost invisible from the river, can be seen, as well as the two columns and the customs house. Although this engraving has not been dated, Tod Allan Marder, in his dissertation on the construction of the port, contends that it was made in 1705, since the plan appearing in Taja’s book, published in1705, derives from Specchi’s prototype. In his Itinerario istruttivo di Roma, published at the end of the eighteenth century, Mariano Vasi wrote, ‘This small port is genuinely picturesque, as is most of the foreshore of the river’.

Few representations survive of this demolished architectural jewel, which, together with the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, defined the look of ‘modern Rome’. Eighteenth-century guides to the city, produced for the use of pilgrims and visitors, including the guide written by Gregorio Roisecco in 1740, contain very simplified views of the port. In addition to Specchi’s engraving, which celebrated the completion of work on the port, there is also a mid-eighteenth-century view by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Fig. 9). Piranesi’s ‘picturesque’ image presages Vasi’s pre-romantic vision of the place in which dozens of small boats laden with casks of wine and oil, wood and other goods, clutter the port and impair the spectator’s view of the architecture. Only the corner of the customs house can be seen in Piranesi’s print. Van Wittel’s picture, on the other hand, shows the stairs descending towards the river and the ramps following the shape of the semi-circle. The fountain and the two columns stand out against the background of the church of San Girolamo and the Palazzo Borghese. Van Wittel’s view was painted from the opposite bank of the Tiber, from the Gasperoni vineyard next to Villa Altoviti and it shows the river winding as far as the Collegio Clementino, and beyond the vaulted dome of Sant’Agostino, one of Rome’s earliest such domes.

Oil paintings of the Porto di Ripetta are very few, and this major work by Gaspar van Wittel is certainly the first, executed a few years after the area had been redeveloped. A further two, one by Hendrik Frans van Lint (Antwerp 1684-Rome 1763) (Fig. 10) and another by Bernardo Bellotto (Venice 1721-Warsaw 1780) (Fig. 11) both date from the mid eighteenth-century. Another little-known painting, attributed to Hubert Robert (Paris 1733-1808) (Fig. 12), was formerly in the Ventura collection in Rome and a late nineteenth-century picture by Pietro Sassi (Alexandria 1834-Rome 1905) (Fig. 13) belongs to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome. Like Piranesi, Van Wittel was interested in architecture and he painted the port from the far bank of the Tiber, enhancing the novelty of Alessandro Specchi’s design by highlighting the architectural importance of the double stairway built inside the semi-circle. Van Lint and Bellotto, on the other hand, chose to portray the port from inside the city. Van Lint, in his painting in the Colonna collection, focuses on the central area with the fountain, the columns and the palaces facing on to the Tiber. Bellotto’s painting, now in Düsseldorf, shows the long Strada di Ripetta leading from the Palazzo Borghese to the Porta del Popolo. By their choice of viewpoint, both artists reduce the visual impact of the new port on modern Rome to the minimum. The two later paintings, the one attributed to Hubert Robert and the painting by Pietro Sassi, follow the same kind of lines.

Gaspar van Wittel’s preparatory drawing for this view was formerly in the Ferrara Dentice collection in Naples (it has not been traced) (Fig. 14). There is one further autograph painting of the same scene by Van Wittel (Fig. 15) and a studio work (Fig. 16). Two more paintings, of very similar composition, were erroneously attributed to the Van Wittel, but are, in fact, the work of an anonymous painter from the beginning of the eighteenth century. One is now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen (Fig. 17) and the other was sold at Sotheby’s in London in 1986 (Fig. 18). These two views of the port were both painted from the Villa Altoviti on the far side of the river and both depict papal visits to the new port. The only identifying mark on the painting sold at Sotheby’s is a pair of initials, difficult to read from the photograph (possibly ‘V.W.’), and a date, 1710. The anonymous author may have illustrated one of the countless visits made by Clement XI, then pope, to his recently inaugurated pride and joy.

The preparatory drawing is only known from photographs but without correct measurements. Van Wittel probably produced it while work on the port was in progress, possibly at the end of 1704, since the fountain and the stone bearing the dedicatory inscription to Clement XI Albani are absent. We know the latter was due to be installed in August 1704 but fell and was ‘reduced to rubble’. Most significantly, the customs house, constructed during 1705, does not appear in the drawing. As far as the commemorative stone is concerned, this was designed separately by Van Wittel on the back of a pencil study of a View of Vaprio d’Adda now in the Museo di San Martino in Naples. The photograph of the inscription sketched by the artist was published by Walter Vitzthum in the catalogue to the exhibition of drawings by Van Wittel held in Gaeta in 1980, but the scholar was unaware of the monument to which the stone belonged (Fig. 19). This minor discovery makes it possible to surmise that the drawing of the inscription and the drawing of the whole port were realised between the end of 1704, when the stone was to be put in place, and before May 1705, when the building of the customs house was completed.

Until today only one view of the port, in a private collection in Rome, was securely attributed to Gaspar van Wittel. It appeared in 1959 in the great historical exhibition on eighteenth-century Rome (Fig. 15). This medium-sized canvas (75 x 133 cm) shows the port seen from the Villa Altoviti, on the other side of the Tiber. The property from which the artist was permitted to make his drawing belonged to the Florentine Altoviti family, described by Lione Pascoli as the artist’s first patrons when he moved from Holland to Rome. The garden of the villa appears in the foreground where two prelates stroll, breviaries in hand. At the right, there is a glimpse of the villa’s monumental entrance gate half hidden by trees and nearby, leaning on the wall of the terrace overlooking the river, two gentlemen watch the boats going up by.

The view omits the customs house on the left, and cuts off the image at the height of the palace beside the church of San Girolamo degli Schiavoni, called in Specchi’s print ‘Casa di San Girolamo’. A bather emerges merrily from the waters of the Tiber while three men on the riverbank laboriously pull a boat into the port by means of a long rope. The work can be dated to the first decade of the eighteenth century, a few years after the port area had been redeveloped.

In 1965 Andrea Busiri Vici attributed another, larger view of the port to Gaspar van Wittel (private collection, Rome (77 x 174cm)). However, in the new 1996 edition of Giuliano Briganti’s book, it was judged not to be entirely autograph and the painting was therefore dropped from the catalogue of the artist’s works (Fig. 16). The perplexity then experienced when faced with the latter painting turned out to be well-founded, since today, six years later, the autograph version from the collection of the Principi Borghese, published here for the first time, reappeared. This new picture has exactly the same measurements as the rejected studio version. Nevertheless, there are various small differences between the two paintings. The studio work known heretofore is not an exact copy, but the difference in quality makes it clear that the new picture is autograph, while the previously published version is not.

Some of the more obvious differences suggest that the studio replica was rather hastily executed. The customs house has a much longer left wing and, in the centre, the sloping roof of the façade of San Rocco, which does not appear in the newly discovered version, can be glimpsed. The dome of the church itself is more exposed. Also, in the replica, the wall of the Collegio Clementino facing the Tiber has almost no windows and the Altoviti gateway is much simplified, lacking all ornament in the upper part. The studio copy also has one obvious addition, the bush in the lower foreground. With regard to the figures, there are no significant differences between the two paintings. On the other hand, some variations can be spotted in the group of animals grazing in the garden on the far bank of the Tiber.

The new View of the Porto di Ripetta from the collection of the Borghese family is the only painting which reproduces completely and convincingly the eighteenth-century arrangement of the port as documented in Specchi’s engraving. It includes, for example, the customs house. The view is painted from the opposite bank of the Tiber, in the area of Prati di Castello, from a place between the zone labelled (in Giambattista Nolli’s map of Rome of 1748) Vigna Gasperoni and the garden of the Villa Altoviti, both opposite the port. A wooded part of the Altoviti garden can be seen, as well as the entrance gate and steps going down to the river. From the left, we see the new four storey customs house more or less concealing everything except the dome of the church of San Rocco, a sixteenth-century church belonging to the corporation of innkeepers and boatmen. Next to the right is the building called ‘Casa di San Girolamo’, beside the church known as San Girolamo degli Schiavoni or degli Illirici. The name derives from the district where the Dalmatian and Albanian refugees settled after the Turkish victory at Kosovo (1387). Moving towards the right, we see the palace of the ‘family of the Borghese Prince’ (according to Specchi’s engraving), near the large, imposing Palazzo del Principe Borghese, popularly known as the ‘Borghese harpsichord’ because of its design. Further to the right the port ends with an elegant building described in Piranesi’s engraving as the ‘stables of the same Prince’, next door to the tiny (demolished) church of San Gregorio della Confraternità dei Muratori (Masons’ guild). A series of small buildings along the Tiber follows, culminating at a long and noble edifice with its many windows, which is the now destroyed Collegio Clementino, founded by Clemente VIII in 1595 for ‘the education of noble Youth, whether Roman or from elsewhere’. Behind the college is the low dome of Sant’Agostino and finally, easily spotted on the right, the dome of Sant’Agnese in Agone in Piazza Navona. A number of bathers disport themselves in the river enjoying pleasurable relief from the evident heat of Rome (Fig. 20). On the subject of these summer bathers, Valesio noted in his diary on Sunday 16 August 1705, ‘On the bank opposite the new port of Ripetta many people could be seen washing themselves indecently in the nude, even though a very strict ban outlawing such a practice had been issued on the previous day’.

There are boatmen propelling their crafts and others unloading goods on to the quay. Porters laden with sacks make their way laboriously up the broad, comfortable stairs of the new construction, or haul barrels of wine up the ramps which wind their way around the central bastion. On both banks fishermen with nets and hooks endeavour to catch fish. Beneath the balcony outside the customs house a long craft is being restored. The lively, noisy life of the port contrasts vividly with the slower, quieter city life to be seen in the Strada di Ripetta where pedestrians, carts and gentlemen’s carriages intermingle.

Thus far we have examined the condition of the Ripetta before the construction of the port and the development of the area beside the Tiber and presented the work of the different painters who, between the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, painted pictures of the Porto di Ripetta, documenting its now lost appearance. Within this context we have discussed the three views by Gaspar van Wittel, including a drawing and two autograph paintings which show great respect for the exact configuration of the site as portrayed in Specchi’s engraving. However, nothing has so far been said of the patrons or collectors who might have been interested in this view. We know for certain that the larger painting under discussion, which belonged to the Principi Borghese, came from the family collection and has been passed down via the family’s heirs. We have no provenance for the smaller painting, however. Niccolò (del) Giudice, president of the Tribunale delle Strade, who supervised the redevelopment of the Ripetta area, was famous for his extraordinary ability to choose and purchase paintings and jewellery. Even when he was eighty years old, in 1741, he bought six paintings for three thousand scudi. One of these was attributed to Rubens and another to Michelangelo. Between 1710 and 1714 he exhibited between seven and fifty pieces from his collection at a variety of exhibitions organised by Giuseppe Ghezzi at San Salvatore in Lauro. The detailed inventories for these exhibitions show that Niccolò del Giudice had in his possession, amongst other things, works by Agostino Carracci, Lanfranco, Pietro da Cortona, Bartolomeo Schedoni, Filippo Lauri, Federico Barocci, Guido Reni, Gentileschi, Mattia Preti, Mola, Poussin, as well as sixteenth- and seventeenth-century paintings from Ferrara by artists such as Garofalo, Dosso and Scarsellino. In an undated list of his paintings was executed in the early eighteenth century, amongst the many religious works painted, a painting by Gaspar van Wittel is mentioned, although without any mention of its subject. Van Wittel’s name does not appear, however, in the lists of paintings lent for the annual exhibitions. It is perhaps only a small liberty to suppose that the view by Van Wittel quoted in the inventory of the collection of (del) Giudice was indeed the view of the Port of Ripetta, a place familiar to the monsignor and dear to his heart. Perhaps it is no surprise that the view exhibited in 1959 at the exhibition devoted to eighteenth-century Rome, until that time the only known view by Van Wittel or the Ripetta, lacks the customs house – which had certainly been built by that time (Fig. 9). We know that differences of opinion between ministers appointed to the customs and the Presidenza delle Strade delayed the construction and this may have been why Niccolò (del) Giudice, who was President of Roads, preferred to commission a view which deliberately did not include the building that was subject of the controversy.

The two known versions of this splendid view would thus have belonged to the two people directly involved in the urban development of the Ripetta. Without Niccolò (del) Giudice, deus ex machina, perhaps we might not have had such a plan, but without Prince Borghese, who gave the piece of land which was lacking, the plan might not have been realised in the same way.

One hypothesis might be that the Altoviti family commissioned a view of Ripetta since they owned the villa facing the port. However, amongst the paintings belonging to Giovanni Battista Altoviti exhibited in San Salvatore in Lauro at the annual exhibitions no work by Van Wittel is mentioned. Moreover, in Lione Pascoli’s biography of the artist only ‘small paintings in tempera… for Altoviti’ are mentioned.

Today there are two handsome paintings in the collection of Prince Borghese (60 x 122cm), that have been inserted into the later decoration of a room on the second floor of the Palazzo Borghese. They are a View of the Piazza San Pietro and a View of the Piazza del Popolo, both dating from the early years of the eighteenth century. They were cautious

77 x 175 cm
Oil on board

Borgese Collection, Rome


Matthiesen Gallery & Stair Sainty Matthiesen, ‘Gaspar van Wittel and the Porto della Ripetta, Rome’, text by L.Laureati, London, 2002.

Where is It?
Acquired from the Matthiesen Gallery by a Private Client
Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720 & Rococo - 1720-1780
Italian - Roman
Price band
Sold or not available