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Marine Landscape

Wals Gottfried

(Cologne 1595 - Calabria 1638)

This painting probably came into the Borghese Collection as part of the estate of Olimpia Aldobrandini (1623-1681), mother of Prince Giovanni Battista Borghese (1639-1717). The work certainly belongs to the Dutch school. In the past it was attributed to Jan Van Ossenbeeck of Rotterdam, who was active in the mid-17th century in Rome, where he was influenced by the oeuvres of Agostino Tassi and Filippo Napoletano. Yet today some critics believe the work to be by Gottfried Wals, the German painter who worked in Rome in the first decades of the 17th century and who likewise came under the sway of Agostino Tassi.


Object details

Prima metà del XVII secolo
oil on copper
cm 16 x 25

Inv. Olimpia Aldobrandini, 1682 (?); Borghese Collection, cited in Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 28, no. 47. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.


The painting cannot be identified with certainty in the historic inventories of the Borghese Collection, given the presence of numerous small-format works depicting landscapes, which are often ascribed to ‘unknown’ painters. In the view of Paola Della Pergola (1959, p. 179), the work formed part of the estate of Olimpia Aldobrandini, whose posthumous inventory of 1682 contains mention of a ‘small painting on copper with a landscape and the sea with a small boat and people, with an ebony frame, one span high, as listed in the Inventory on page 226, no. 627’. While most of the details given here point to the work in question, a small discrepancy is apparent in the dimensions. The copper may be one of those indicated in the entry of the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario which reads, ‘three small paintings, artist unknown, 1 span 1 1/7 inches wide, 1 span high’: this same information is given in Piancastelli’s profiles. Nonetheless, the generic nature of the description does not allow us to confidently assert that the description corresponds to our Marine Landscape.

Adolfo Venturi (1893, p. 121) was the first to propose the name of Jan van Ossenbeeck, the painter from Rotterdam. His theory was later accepted by both Roberto Longhi (1928, p. 197) and Della Pergola (1959, p. 179). Van Ossenbeeck was active in Rome around the mid-17th century, painting landscapes with figures and animals inspired by the models of Agostino Tassi and Filippo Napoletano. More recently, Kristina Herrmann Fiore (2006, p. 69) expressed her agreement with this attribution. Yet not all critics concur: while a comparison of the work in question with the few that are known to be by the artist reveals several stylistic similarities – such as the use of light-toned, bright colours, especially in the rendering of the blues of the skies and the bodies of water – conspicuous differences are also apparent. In these other works, the artist uses larger-scale formats with more defined figures and a more marked presence of animals.

Given these discrepancies, a more convincing proposal appears to be that of Luigi Salerno (1976, p. 187), who attributed the work in question to Gottfried Wals, the German artist active in Rome in the first decades of the 17th century as a follower of Agostino Tassi. This work is in fact reflective of Wals’s style in a number of ways: the quality of the brushstrokes, the predilection for small formats with landscapes, the incorporation of miniature figures, and the attention to lighting effects: with regard to the last-named characteristic, the artist shows the influence of Adam Elsheimer as well.

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 454.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 121.
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 197.
  • T.H. Fokker, in,U. Thieme, F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, XXVI, Leipzig 1932, p. 72.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 179, n. 264.
  • L. Salerno, Pittori di Paesaggio del Seicento a Roma, I, Roma 1976, p. 187.
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 69.