The exceptionally beautiful ‘Grand Tour’ Roman scene captures the dome of St. Peter’s Cathedral and the great medieval fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo from a perspective just across the River Tiber. The highly skilled employment of the aquatint medium and the sophisticated use of colour lends the scene a certain softness commensurate with Italianate light. Its exceptional artistic élan distinguishes it from the vast corpus of contemporary English views of Rome.
The present view is based upon a draft by William Marlow (1740 – 1813), a prominent British landscape and marine painter and etcher.
Marlow’s original artwork is held by the Tate Gallery in London, please see link: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/marlow-rome-castle-s-angelo-and-st-peters-t09157.
Marlow was educated a the St. Martin’s Lane Academy and from 1762 to 1764 contributed to the Incorporated Society of Artists’ Spring Exhibitions. He also made fine drawings of elements of the architecture of William Chambers. The sketch on which the present view is based was likely executed by Marlow while he toured Italy between 1765 to 1768, following the advice of his patron, the Duchess of Northumberland. Some of his other Italian views were engraved in 1795 by his former pupil, John Curtis. He created many views of scenes around London, many of which were exhibited at the Royal Academy, including his most famous work, Twickenham Ferry by Moonlight (1807)
John Melchior Barralet (fl. 1774-1800) was an Anglo-Irish landscape and watercolour painter who was also proficient in the aquatint medium. He was the brother of the prominent watercolour artist John James Barralet (1747-1815). Barralet commenced his career in his native Dublin, although nothing is known of his work there. By 1774, he had moved to London where he operated a drawing school. His best known works consist of tinted drawings, views in the London area, of which some were engraved. The Victoria & Albert Museum holds his drawing of “All Saints Church and Bishop’s Palace, Maidstone,” (1776), while the British Museum holds three of his rustic views in aquatint.
By 1800, printing in the aquatint medium had reached a very high level of artistry in London. It had been introduced to England from the Continent by the cartographer Peter Perez Burdett around 1770, whence it was referred to as the ‘secret technique’. It was subsequently taken up the topographic artist Paul Sandby and by the eminent cartographer J.F.W. Des Barres before it gained widespread currency in the fine arts community. The present view was printed by the firm of Robert Cribb, which became one of the leading early producers of fine art aquatints in London.
The present view was separately issued in extremely limited quantities and is today extremely rare. We have not been able to locate a single reference to it in literature, institutional catalogues or in sales records.
References: N/A – Unrecorded. Cf. Ann V. Gunn, ‘Sandby, Greville and Burdett, and the ‘Secret’ of Aquatint’, Print Quarterly, vol. XXIX, no. 2, 2012, pp. 178-180; Walter Strickland, A Dictionary of Irish Artists (1913).