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Marco Ricci (Belluno 1676-Venice 1730)

A Classical Ruin Capriccio c.1727-29

Gouache on alum-tawed skin | 30.0 x 44.7 cm (sight) | RCIN 406907

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  • Marco Ricci produced a large number of paintings of landscape subjects executed in the unusual technique of gouache, or possibly tempera, on leather, perhaps kidskin (the paint was made by binding pigments with egg yolk or gum arabic respectively). Typically measuring about 31 × 45 cm, the smooth, pale surface of the skin on the stretcher gives a clarity and luminosity to the bright paint applied to it. Joseph Smith, who knew Marco Ricci well, collected 33 of Ricci's gouache paintings, all but one now in the Royal Collection. All the works are in their original Venetian frames (some have their eighteenth-century glazing intact) and they would have hung in groups, probably on the walls of Smith's residence at Mogliano.

    Although most of Marco's gouaches are not dated, they can be placed in the 1720s, his last and most productive decade. Many are pastoral scenes – mountain landscapes, villages and farms – set in the richly fertile and dramatic landscape surrounding Marco's home town of Belluno in the Dolomites. Others illustrate the beauty and power of nature, with dramatic storms, torrents of water in rugged mountains or the surprise appearance of a bear or a snake. These were all subjects that Marco had painted throughout his life, reusing the compositions of existing drawings and oil subjects in the tempera medium. In contrast to his oil paintings, in the gouaches the sky is often an optimistic blue, the light refined and subtle.

    Marco's awareness of the Italian classical landscape tradition gives his temperas a grandeur despite their small scale. Others show Marco referring to the capricci and ruin paintings of Luca Carlevarijs and Giovanni Paolo Panini. In this painting, the scene is carefully composed, with substantial blocks lying horizontal to the picture plane. Yet Marco's ruin paintings have an element of fantasy that links them to his stage scenery, introducing trees and foliage among the rubble. The gouache is probably a late work, closely related to his oil paintings Caprice Landscape with Ruins and a Statue (RCIN 404377) and Caprice View with Roman Ruins (RCIN 404141), which are among his last works. But while the landscapes are pastoral idylls, echoing the arcadia of Giorgione and Titian, the ruins are evocative of a great but lost past of the Roman Empire; both are poetic, powerfully evocative and tinged with sadness.

    Text adapted from Canaletto & the Art of Venice, 2017.

    Acquired from the artist (or after his death) by Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice; acquired from Smith by George III in 1762 (Italian List nos 116-48); recorded in the Queen's Dressing Room at Kew in 1805 and 1828

  • Medium and techniques

    Gouache on alum-tawed skin


    30.0 x 44.7 cm (sight)

    33.0 x 45.7 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    40.6 x 55.45 x 3.9 cm (frame, external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    A Classical Ruin Caprice