If for Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg and for many of his colleagues in Rome it was “[…] almost impossible
refrain from landscape painting “, in this sense affects the 1 observation point that from Monte Mario is
overlooking the Aurelian Walls towards the bend of the Tiber, leaving the city to be framed by the Alban Mountains in
Certainly not one of the most repeated angles, the choice to enclose the Eternal City
capturing its visual identity as it is offered by the arboreal scrubs near Villa Mellini – today
astronomical observatory – certainly had to offer an interesting conceptual challenge for the painter from
landscape around the 18th and 19th centuries. Where the broad topographical breath in fact coexists with a variety
very luxuriant botany, Monte Mario represents a salient observation point for the landscape spirit of
Enlightenment mold, aimed at the search for the ontological identity of the real data, as well as for the romantic
pursuit of the phenomenological fragment.
The Giovan Paolo also took part in the challenge
Pannini, Jakob Phliip Hackert and Giovanni Battista Lusieri, as well as William Mallord Turner, Franz
Knebel, the Salomon Corrodi; not Gustaf Wilhelm Palm, to whom the
canvas under consideration. The sources in our possession today allow us to affirm that in all probability it is
Swedish has never practiced the subject.
The lacuna is attested by the substantial archive of the Nationalmuseum of
Stockholm – comprising more than 1600 drawings, watercolors and paintings, mostly made in Italy – and from
work register compiled personally by the artist for most of his life and today in custody at
the Kungliga Akademien för de Fria Konsterna, also in the Scandinavian capital. The work in question comes here
instead attributed to the aforementioned Knebel, author of a view signed and dated 1854, already seen at auction at
Bonhams London in March 2017 (lot 14) and clearly comparable to the present.
Beyond the size
(a few centimeters smaller than the London canvas), the differences are really minimal: if, as we will analyze
soon in detail, the perspective-topographical system is evidently the same, the variations are
concentrate in the foreground, where Knebel has made quite substantial variations in the scenes
narratives with characters, in the vegetation and in the chromatic temperature, the latter factor from which it is
easy to infer the desire to portray the scene in specific lighting conditions. From the comparison between the two works
In this sense, Knebel’s shrewd ability in returning different meteorological variations emerges,
aspect that we can ascertain here from the chromatic reverberations on the palaces of Rome through a formal rendering
The stylistic dialectic evoked by the Monte Mario “challenge” represents an ideal prodrome to introduce
the artistic identity of our author. Born in Switzerland in 1809, just 12 years old Charles-François (Franz)
Knebel moved to Rome from his cousin painter Franz Keisermann, who had a flourishing in the capital
1 Letter from C. W. Eckersberg to J. F. Clemens, 23 July 1814, cit. in Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum, edited by Henrik
Bramsen, Hannemarie Ragn Jensen, Copenhagen 1973, p. 57.
shop where, among others, Bartolomeo Pinelli worked for a long time. Like the latter, Knebel approaches the
I work by painting figures in the watercolors of the shop manager, who decided to adopt it as early as 1823
inaugurating a closer family relationship that will be studded with misunderstandings until the final breakup
which took place in 1830.
The young Franz had in fact decided to marry an older and much more Roman woman
less affluent than he, a factor that Keisermann never approved. He certainly had a role in the conflict
cover him with the substantial inheritance that the elderly adoptive father intended to leave to Knebel, a heritage that al
the moment of his death in 1833 included the sumptuous studio apartment in Piazza di Spagna 31,
as well as a vast legacy of works by Pinelli and Keisermann himself, a fund partially put up for sale
by the beneficiary shortly after death.
Some creative stage linked to Keisermann’s watercolor must therefore have been well known to Knebel
1819 seen on display in 2001 in Rome, rather than the elegant 2 preparatory drawing presented by Fabio
Benzi in 2007 and dated 1800-1803.3 Keisermann used to exercise a maniacal application in choosing
of the point of view and in the subsequent phase of definition of the linear system. Once the essence has been extracted
form of the panorama, the artist could therefore repeat and vary the subject at will by virtue of
that demiurgic process that defines the absolute result of that conceptualization and therefore of his own
Instead, we can ascertain the display of expressive tools antithetical to this vision put in place by Knebel
in the canvas in question.