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Battista Pittoni

(known as Battista Vicentino, 1520–1583/84, Vicenza)

Landscape Capriccio with Roman Ruins and the Lupa Romana. Pen and brown ink over a light preliminary chalk drawing. 14.1 x 20.8 cm.

Virtually nothing is known of the first forty years in the life of the Vicenza-born engraver and miniaturist, Battista Pittoni, who was also known as Battista Vicentino. Evidently highly esteemed as an artist during his lifetime, he associated with men of letters, humanists and prominent fellow artists and became a member of the Accademia Olimpica di Vicenza in 1555. The memoirs of the sculptor, Alessandro Vittoria, published in 1558 indicate that Pittoni was active in the city both as a print dealer and – together with his wife Gasparina – as a miniaturist. He definitely stayed in Rome and Naples before settling in Venice in 1558. Pittoni is known primarily for his etched and engraved prints, almost all of which formed part of extensive series and mostly bear a monogram, the initials B. P. V. or the artist’s first name.

Apart from a series of arabesques and a well-known series featuring emblems of Italian princes and noblemen, which first appeared in 1562 and were accompanied by poems written by Lodovico Dolce, Nagler records several series of landscape views with Roman ruins and occasional mythological scenes. Pittoni’s landscapes of ruins were undoubtedly based on a series of very successful etchings with comparable subject matter by the Antwerp engraver and publisher, Hieronymus Cock, as well as on the drawings made in Rome by Maerten van Heemskerck, which also inspired Cock. The reference to the former is particularly apparent in the series Praecipua aliquot Romanae Antiquitatis Ruinarum Monimenta, probably first published in 1561, in which Pittoni draws extensively on a series of engravings with almost the same title made by Hieronymus Cock in 1551 (Hollstein 22–46) and which he occasionally copies in reverse.

The present pen-and-ink drawing of a landscape with ancient ruins and staffage figures may well have arisen in connection with one of Pittoni’s series. It was probably a primo pensiero for an etching which never came to fruition. The incorporation of the motif of the Lupa Romana with Romulus and Remus on the right of the picture could be a contextual reference to Pittoni’s twenty-print series Imagini Favolose, nelle quali in diversi modi si vengono rappresentate le più vaghe favole de gli antichi, which was published in Venice in 1585. In view of their model-book character, Pittoni’s landscapes of ruins were widely used as designs for painters. Paolo Veronese, for example, made use of them as a basis for the landscape backgrounds in the frescoes he painted at the Villa Barbaro in Maser.

The present drawing with its very dense atmosphere has been executed in a fluid, confident style which reveals the hand of an experienced draughtsman. Stylistically comparable drawings are to be found in Paris in the collections of the Louvre (Landscape with Ancient Ruins and a Town on the Banks of a River, pen and brown ink over traces of black chalk, 20.9 x 30.1 cm, inv. no. INV 11025, recto) and the École des Beaux-Arts (Ancient Ruins on the Bank of a River, pen and brown ink over traces of black pencil, 21.2 x 31.4 cm, inv. no. Mas. 2354). Literature: Le dessin à Vérone aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles, exhibition catalogue Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des dessins, published by Dominique Cordellier, Hélène Sueur, Paris 1993, pp. 94–97.

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