View of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome

by Constantin Hansen

 June 2014

Nationalmuseum has expanded its fine art collection with the acquisition of a view of Rome with the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in the foreground, painted in 1836 by the Danish artist Constantin Hansen (1804-1880). The oil sketch represents a type of painting that became common in the first half of the 19th century, when artists from northern Europe visited Rome in large numbers. They stayed for several years, developing their artistic sense and technical skill. A key part of their education involved immortalizing views like this in deftly executed oil sketches. Although many of the motifs were well known to the tourists of the time, the artists were equally likely to choose an insignificant view. Their primary goal was to practise depicting light and atmosphere as realistically as possible. The resulting works were therefore not specifically intended for sale or even for public display. In these works, the artists did not need to adhere to convention, but could allow themselves to be subjective in their portrayal. The motifs are often somewhat insignificant, with a perspective that does not immediately focus on what is expected. Instead, the motifs seem to be based on a personal fascination. In recent decades, oil sketches featuring Italian motifs have been increasingly sought after by museums and private collectors alike.

A magical sense of calm hangs over Hansen’s view of the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, largely because the foreground is completely dominated by a quiet, deserted square. One possible explanation is that the artist associated the setting with personal experiences, rather than wishing to document the view as such. From the foreground, the viewer’s eye is directed down a steep street, between a walled garden at left and the church at right, to gaze out over the distant roofs of Rome through a bluish haze. It is easy to imagine how, from the spot where he was painting, the artist would have felt drawn first to the mysterious garden behind the walls, then to the cool, dark interior of the church, and finally to the city beyond, with its infinite number of alleyways teeming with life.

Picture: View of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome by Constantin Hansen, 1836

View of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome by Constantin Hansen, 1836

For artists such as Constantin Hansen, sketches like this became treasured souvenirs, which they often kept for the rest of their life. It is conceivable that these paintings are considered so desirable today because of their fresh, realistic depictions. The intervening years are quickly blotted out, and contemporary viewers can easily share the artist’s experience of and fascination with this Roman scene.

The donor, Mrs Ulla-Bella Sandberg (1926–2013), was a long-time member of the Friends of Nationalmuseum and bequeathed her entire estate to the museum. Combined with a generous donation from director Gunnar Hultmark, this bequest enabled the purchase of Constantin Hansen’s exquisite view of Rome. Nationalmuseum has no budget of its own for new acquisitions, but relies on gifting and financial support from private funds and foundations to enhance its collections of fine art and craft.

Inventory number: NM 7143


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