We are grateful to Dr. Andreas Stolzenburg, the author of the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Catel’s work, for authentication of this work. The following text is based on his detailed study of the painting.
For a full version of the study in German, please visit a href=http://www.daxermarschall.com>www.daxermarschall.com
The painter, draughtsman, watercolourist and etcher Franz Ludwig Catel produced an extremely varied body of work ranging from plein-air oil studies executed with extraordinary modernity and directness to highly finished compositions like the present painting and genre scenes in urban and landscape settings. These brought him widespread recognition and considerable worldly success.
He studied at the Berlin Academy from 1794 to 1797 and at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1798 to 1800. He was briefly in Switzerland in 1797. He was appointed a member of the Berlin Academy in 1806. Between 1798 and 1806 he produced a large body of illustrations for contemporary German and French almanacs and books. These included works by Goethe, Schiller, Johann Joachim Campe, Johann Heinrich Voss and the French writer Jacques Delille. He returned to Paris in 1807 to refine his skills in oil painting. In 1811 he moved from his native city of Berlin to Rome, where he was to live and work for the rest of his life. He died in Rome in 1856.
On his arrival in Rome, Catel joined the circle of Nazarene painters around Friedrich Overbeck and gave instruction in perspective drawing. He distanced himself, however, from their religious ideals. His first wife, Sophie Frederike Kolbe, the sister of the artist Carl Wilhelm Kolbe, had died in 1810 and he remarried in 1814 after converting to Catholicism. His second wife was Margherita Prunetti, the daughter of Michelangelo Prunetti, the Roman art critic and writer. In 1818, the couple, now enjoying considerable social and financial success, started to entertain on a regular basis at their house on the Piazza di Spagna, holding salons and soirées for a large multinational circle of artists, writers, collectors and musicians. They continued to do this for well over thirty years. Prominent guests included Fanny Mendelssohn, her husband Wilhelm Hensel and the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
Catel executed three etchings in Rome in 1818, dedicating all three to Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire (1759-1824; formerly Lady Elizabeth Hervey, later Lady Elizabeth Foster). The three etchings are titled A View of the Bay of Maiori, A View of the Town of Amalfi on the Gulf of Salerno and A View of the Fountains on the Piazza San Pietro in the Vatican, seen from the Colonnade by Moonlight. The subject of this last etching is identical to the subject of the present painting. A somewhat smaller painting of the same subject is in the collection of the Museo di Roma. It is very probable that it served as a preparatory work for the etching since both it and the etching share the same format. In addition, the etching bears the inscription Catel dip. [dipinxit], meaning Catel painted it, in the plate.
The provenance of the present painting – which was previously in a Danish private collection – cannot be traced as far back as the nineteenth century. None the less it seems evident, in the light of the information available, that it was commissioned or owned by one of three contemporary figures. They are Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire, the painter Sir Thomas Lawrence and the Princely House of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn.
Although it is highly plausible that the Duchess of Devonshire was the owner of one of the two known versions, this is not documented. There is only documentary evidence of the existence of the version reputedly executed for Thomas Lawrence, whose art collection was dispersed in 1830. In addition, that version might well be identical to the version that is known to have been in the possession of the Princes of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn up to 1920. This version is known to have had the same dimensions as the present work.
In summary, the Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn provenance appears to be the most plausible, supported by the fact that the format of the two paintings is identical. The present work could then be dated to the years between 1818 and 1820. But the possibility that it is an entirely unrecorded third version cannot be completely ruled out.