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Monday, February 6, 2012

Offering of the Day: A Magnificent Nineteenth-Century Watercolor View of Rome

Salomon Corrodi (1810-1892)
View of Rome from the Janiculum, with Tasso's Oak in the Foreground
With inscription "Rome Chérémeteff" and an illegible inscription in Russian and German
Black chalk and bodycolor: 18 5/8" x 24 7/8" (291/4" x 351/2" framed)
$68,000.

            This evocative watercolor by noted artist Salomon Corrodi shows Rome unfolding panoramically in the near distance, as glimpsed from a vantage point high atop the Janiculum Hill on the western side of the city. The Janiculum, though not one of the original Seven Hills of Rome, is the tallest point in the city and offers the best views of the historical center. Corrodi's view looks out onto the russet and ocher hues of the buildings in the densely packed urban center, which are bathed in the warm light of early evening in Rome.

            Corrodi's view of the city is framed by the spreading branches of a stately oak tree in the foreground. This tree is not any anonymous bit of foliage but, in fact, a Roman landmark known as "Tasso's Oak." Torquato Tasso was a sixteenth-century scholar and poet, most famous for his epic "Gerusalemme Liberata" (Jerusalem Delivered), a moralizing fictional treatment of the Crusades. Legend holds that Tasso spent the final year of his life waiting in vain for official recognition of his achievement from Pope Clement VIII. Tasso, it is said, chose to do his waiting beneath an ancient oak tree near the Vatican on the northern ridge of the Janiculum. Tasso's Oak survives to this day, although marginally -- it lives on in the form of one twisted, viable branch amidst a dizzying network of iron scaffolding, masonry, beams, girders, bolts and rings clamping the remnants together. Two hundred years ago, however, Corrodi showed it as a thriving, verdant form that almost seems to stretch its limbs as it peers out over the city from a privileged vantage point.

            Born in Fehraltorf, Switzerland, Salomon Corrodi (1810-1892) was the tenth child of a minister and his wife. In his teens, he apprenticed with the landscape painter Johann Jakob Wetzel. In 1832, at the age of 22, Corrodi traveled to Rome with the artists J.A. Koch, J.C. Reinhart and Franz Ludwig Catel. That trip inspired him to settle permanently in the Eternal City, and he eventually became one of the most well-known nineteenth-century painters of Italian views.

            At the home Corrodi shared with his wife, Emilie Rüegger, in Rome, he presided over a salon that attracted artists from throughout Europe. He was a close friend of the influential Albert Bertel Thorvaldsen, a Neoclassical sculptor of Danish extraction who also spent many years in Rome. Corrodi was one of an innovating group of artists of his generation who painted his landscapes directly from nature, not in the studio, thus paving the way for the Impressionists who followed in the late nineteenth century. His talents were such that he won the patronage of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia as well as the British royal family. He died suddenly at the age of 82, in Como, northern Italy, while en route to visit his native Switzerland.

            Corrodi sought to reproduce as faithfully as possible the landscapes and architectural motifs that he took as his subject matter. His views of Florence, scenes of Venice, and panoramas of Rome are characterized by intense hues by which he evokes the lush quality of Italian light. This superb watercolor is a foremost example of Corrodi's prodigious talents.

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