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View of Villa Borghese

Baur Johann Wilhelm

(Strasbourg 1607 - Vienna 1642)

This View of Villa Borghese was painted in 1636 by the Alsatian miniaturist Johann Wilhelm Baur, as we see from the inscription at the base of the fountain on the left. The work may have been directly commissioned by Prince Marcantonio II Borghese. It provides important evidence of the building’s appearance following its completion as well as its role as a centre of vibrant social life in that era.


Object details

Inventory
519
Location
Date
1636
Classification
Period
Medium
tempera on parchment
Dimensions
30 x 45 cm
Frame

17th-century frame, 35 x 49.5 x 5.2 cm

Provenance

Borghese Collection, first cited in Inv. 1693, room XI, no. 45; Inv. 1700, room VIII, no. 18; Inv. 1790, room VII, no. 132; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, pp. 31-32, no. 112. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Inscriptions

On the base of the fountain, on the left: "Jo. WILHELM BAUR FECIT. 1636"

Exhibitions
  • 1931 Firenze, Palazzo Vecchio
  • 1956-1957 Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni
  • 1966-1967 Roma, Palazzo Braschi  
  • 1990 Roma, Castel Sant’Angelo
  • 1992 Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1908 Luigi Bartolucci

Commentary

The work displays the name of the artist and the date of its execution on the base of the fountain on the left: ‘Jo. WILHELM BAUR FECIT. 1636’. As the inscription on the title block indicates, the subject is a miniature view of Villa Borghese. The painting constitutes important evidence for the 17th-century appearance of the structure, such as its white colour and the rich decorative programme of statues and reliefs on the façade. The date given in the painting tells us that it was made shortly after the Villa was completed. Construction of the Villa – initiated at the behest of Scipione Borghese – was at first led by the architect Flaminio Ponzio and later by Giovanni Vasanzio (Jan van Santen) after the former’s death. The features of the structure as depicted in the painting, in particular its white colour, show that it took its cue from classical architecture, in particular of the Augustan Era, when the use of marble became more popular. The miniature brings together a host of information about the Villa that can also be found in the other figurative and literary sources. The Newes Itinerarium Italiae by the German architect Joseph Furttenbach (1627), for example, noted the white colour of the structure’s exterior.

In the past, the Villa in Baur’s painting was described as being yellow in colour, with some scholars arguing that the original tint of its exterior was changed after Scipione’s death in 1633 (Heilmann 1973, p. 125). Yet a new reading of the image by Kristina Herrmann Fiore (1988, pp. 95-96) clarified that Baur’s use of yellowish colouring in some parts of the painting is accounted for by his rendering of the effects of light and shadow and of different distances, confirming that in 1636 the Villa still certainly had a white exterior.

The miniature not only attests to the appearance of Villa Borghese in the 17th-century but also its social role, through the depiction of a vivacious movement of people either walking or travelling in carriages in the large square in front of the building. The presence of an international public foregrounds the function of the Villa as a venue of diplomatic representation; indeed one of its first illustrious guests was the ambassador Hasekura Tsunenaga, who arrived from Japan in 1615 (Herrmann Fiore 1990, pp. 193-194, no. 67, and 1992, p. 43). The artist’s taste for detail is evident in the Villa’s façade, whose particular features are meticulously depicted, and in the crowd of people variously attired according to the era’s fashions.

The work is certainly one of the best known products of Baur’s oeuvre. It was probably destined for the Borghese Collection from the moment of its execution, perhaps having been directly commissioned by Prince Marcantonio II, who had become the family’s most prominent member following the death of Cardinal Scipione. Four other views of Rome by the same artist – circular in format – likewise form part of the Collection (inv. nos 481, 482, 488 and 489). Scholars believe them to have been executed at more or less the same time as the View of Villa Borghese. The five works in fact constitute an important core of Baur’s known production, a painter who made his mark as a miniaturist and was sought after by important figures of the 17th-century nobility.

In spite of the signature on the painting, the work was listed as ‘by Tempesta’ in the 1693 inventory and as ‘by Algardi’ in that of 1700. Only in 1790 was the correct attribution to Baur made, which was repeated in the 1833 Inventario fidecommissario. The last-named inventory, which curiously classified it as a work on stone, gives this description: ‘View of the palazzo of Villa Pinciana, by Johann Wilhelm Baur, 2 spans wide, 1 span 4 inches high, on stone’. The artist made a replica of this view, though with different figures, in a watercolour signed and dated 1641 (identified in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch by Salerno:  1976, p. 460). This work served as the model for the engraving made by Melchior Küssel, who reproduced a number of works by Baur in this medium: in 1670, Küssel indeed published an entire collection of engravings made from sketches by Baur, entitled Iconographia.

Pier Ludovico Puddu




Bibliography
  • X. Barbier de Montault, Les Musées et Galeries de Rome, Rome 1870, p. 357;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 414;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 221;
  • A.J. Rusconi, La Villa, il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Bergamo 1906, p. 89;
  • F. Noack, Artisti nordici a Villa Borghese, in “L’Arte”, XVI (Il X Congresso Internazionale di Storia dell’Arte), 1913, p. 72;
  • A. Muñoz, Roma Barocca, Milano 1919, p. 73;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 224;
  • F. Noack, Artisti nordici a Villa Borghese, in L’Italia e l’arte straniera. Atti del X Congresso Internazionale di Storia dell’Arte in Roma, Roma 1922, p. 414;
  • Mostra del giardino italiano, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Palazzo Vecchio, 1931), a cura di A. Lensi, U. Ojetti, Firenze 1931, p. 81, n. 2;
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 60;
  • F. Taylor, The Taste of Angels. A history of art collecting from Rameses to Napoleon, Boston 1948, pp. 545-546;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma (“Itinerari dei musei e monumenti d’Italia”, XLIII), Roma 1951, p. 40;
  • F.H. Taylor, Artisti, principi e mercanti. Storia del collezionismo da Ramsete a Napoleone, Torino 1954, p. 346;
  • A. Busiri Vici, Visioni architettonico-figurative del soggiorno in Italia di Giov. Guglielmo Baur, in “Palladio”, N.S., VII, 1957, pp. 32-33;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 145, n. 199;
  • P. Della Pergola, L’inventario Borghese del 1693, in “Arte antica e moderna”, XXX, 1965, p. 215;
  • Villa Borghese, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo Braschi, 1966-1967), Roma 1966, p. 32, n. 10;
  • C. Heilmann, Die Entstehungsgeschichte der Villa Borghese in Rom, in “Münchner Jahrbuch der Bildenden Kunst”, XXIV, 1973, p. 125;
  • L. Salerno, Pittura di Paesaggio del Seicento a Roma, Roma 1977, pp. 460-461;
  • R. Assunto, Specchio vivente del mondo (Artisti stranieri in Roma, 1600-1800), Roma 1978, p. 34;  
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Il colore delle facciate di Villa Borghese nel contesto delle dominanti coloristiche dell’edilizia romana intorno al 1660, in “Bollettino d’Arte”, LXXIII, 1988, XLVIII, p. 94;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in Da Sendai a Roma. Un’ambasceria giapponese a Paolo V, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Castel Sant’Angelo, 1990), a cura di G. Pittau, Roma 1990, pp. 193-194, n. 67;  
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in Invisibilia. Rivedere i capolavori. Vedere i progetti, catalogo della mostra (Roma Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 1992), a cura di M. E. Tittoni, S. Guarino, Roma 1992, p. 43;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Guida alla Galleria Borghese, Roma 1997, p. 64;
  • Making a prince’s museum: drawings for the late-eighteenth-century redecoration of the Villa Borghese, catalogo della mostra (Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, 2000), a cura di P. Carole, A. Campitelli, Los Angeles 2000, pp. 24, 26;
  • C. Stefani in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 215, n. 16;
  • 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. 167.