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Landscape Capriccio with Two Female Staffage Figures. Pen and greyish-black ink over a light preliminary drawing in pencil, light-brown wash. 19.9 x 32.5 cm. Signed and inscribed: “Quarenghi St. Petersbourg”. On the artist’s original blue mounting.
Giacomo Quarenghi is known primarily as an architect, although he originally trained as a painter under Anton Raphael Mengs in Rome at a very early age. He soon discovered his gift for architecture, however, and engaged in an intensive study of the works of his great predecessor, Andrea Palladio. Quarenghi rapidly gained considerable renown as a master builder and in 1779 was invited by Catherine II of Russia to the St. Petersburg court. He became the Empress’s favourite architect, a position he retained under the emperors Paul I and Alexander I. His rigorous classicism in the style of Palladio exerted a far-reaching influence on the architecture in the Russian royal capital of the time.
The highly versatile Quarenghi was also an experienced and prolific draughtsman who produced an extensive oeuvre, most of which is to be found in Venice, St. Petersburg and his native Bergamo. His succinct portrayal of everyday life gives his topographically precise depictions of towns and villages in Russia a cultural value no less significant than that of his architectural designs. The present charming landscape capriccio is treated in a fluid, vibrant manner that is characteristic of the large group of landscapes he produced in St. Petersburg (see exhibition catalogue Giacomo Quarenghi. Architetture e Vedute, Bergamo, Palazzo della Ragione, Milan 1994, p. 190 ff, nos. 247–254). Many of these drawings offer views of imperial country seats in the immediate vicinity of St. Petersburg, such as the Catharine Park in Tsarskoye Selo and the park in the summer residence at Pavlovsk, and are notable for their serenity and lightness of touch. The present sheet is in all probability a ricordo of the pre-Alpine landscape of Lombardy where Quarenghi grew up. The Palladian-inspired architecture fits comfortably into the broad hilly landscape. Two coquettish female figures in the foreground invigorate the composition. A witty annotation in brown ink in the artist’s own hand, which interestingly enough is written in English, lends the print added charm: “Mr. Duval is kindly requested to accept this light sketch of a friend”. Louis or François Duval was court jeweller in St. Petersburg and apparently a close friend of Quarenghi.