This work on copper belongs to a series of four paintings, purchased in 1678 by Prince Giovan Battista Borghese. On that date, Grimaldi was working for the aristocratic family, originally from Siena, that had commissioned him to decorate the gallery of Palazzo Borghese in Campo Marzio. In the four paintings, the true protagonist is the landscape, a genre at which the Bolognese painter excelled, continuing in the direction initiated by Annibale Carracci and Domenichino.
The work has a waterfall at the centre, observed by small figures in the foreground, and romantic elements, typical of Grimaldi’s last compositions. The painting – as well as the whole series – is particularly important, given the small number of easel paintings made by the artist.
Nineteenth-century frame decorated with palmettes, 67 x 89 x 10 cm
Rome, collection of Giovan Battista Borghese, 1678 (Della Pergola 1955, p. 49); Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, pp. 17 (27, 28), 23 (7, 13); purchased by the Italian State, 1902
In 1678, Giovan Battista Borghese issued a payment to the Bolognese painter Gian Francesco Grimaldi ‘for various paintings made as recorded in note no. 718 filed in Ledger A 926 scudi’ (Della Pergola 1955, p. 49). According to Paola della Pergola, who was the first to discover this note among the Borghese papers in the Vatican Apostolic Archives, the payment concerned other more important works, including, however, the present painting on copper and three other landscapes (inv. no. 38, 47, 298), noted shortly after at the Casino di Porta Pinciana by Domenico Montelatici (1700, p. 302): ‘And the four similar paintings, which portray landscapes with small figures, painted on copper, are by Gio. Francesco Bolognese’. In reality, the artist must have made the four paintings while work as being done at Palazzo Borghese (1672–1678), probably having been commissioned to be hung in the apartments on the ground floor.
As argued by Batorska (2012, p. 203, no. 147), this painting is a clear and refined example of Grimaldi’s late style, mixing classical elements with Romantic ones, such as the waterfall in the middle of the painting and the roots just under the surface of the water.