Calvi Ercole, Eighteenth-Century Fountain
works associated
connected artists

1,855 - 1,860; oil on canvas
cm. 48,5 x 35,3
signed bottom right: “E. Calvi”
Inventory: AH01542AFC
Provenance: Semenzato Nuova Geri, Milan, 6 October 1987 (document not consulted)

The painting was purchased on the antique market in 1987. It presents an almost calligraphically precise view of a small square lined on three sides by ancient façades adorned with coats-of-arms, round Roman shields, baroque cartouches and votive tabernacles alternating with the colourful curtains of lower-class homes in a free combination that suggests the perpetuation of urban life through the centuries. Common folk bustle around a monumental 18th-century fountain, going about their everyday business in the midst of ancient remains. The painter’s blending of the tradition of the perspective view of monumental settings with the genre scene was to enjoy great popularity until the 1870s.

The view was certainly painted from life during one of the artist’s frequent travels and forms part of the vast range of Lombard landscapes and views of lakes, Alpine foothills and coastal areas of the Veneto and Neapolitan areas presented at the annual Brera exhibitions as from 1850.

It has recently been suggested that the work was painted some time around the 1880s and hence in the period of the artist’s mature production. The precision and polish of the sophisticated technique and the golden atmosphere of the scene against the bright blue sky would instead seem to indicate a date in the 1850s. After the period of early work still marked by some uncertainty in the handling of the perspective grid, the artist displayed a secure mastery of perspective during the following decade in works like Via Cappello in San Sebastiano (1850, Verona, Fondazione Cariverona) and Piazza Duomo, Milan, in 1856, which has recently reappeared on the antique market. Halfway through the 1850s, his canvases still displayed close connections with the models and experiments with light of Giuseppe Canella, in works like Piazza delle Erbe in Verona (1854, Verona, Collection of Banco Popolare), and of Carlo Ferrari, a popular author of lively views of towns in the Veneto region of an anecdotal and sketch-like character, including Auction at Porta Borsari in Verona or Gifts to the Homeland in the Cariplo Collection.

The work examined here is comparable to these in the handling both of light and of perspective, far removed from the naturalism and the quick and substantial brushwork that distinguish the artist’s new approach as from the late 1870s. This developed under the influence of criticism within the same thematic repertoire of commercially successful urban views and lakeside landscapes presented up to the 1890s in Genoa at the Esposizione di Belle Arti di Genova and exemplified in the Cariplo Collection by the View of Brianza and Moorland in Lombardy.

Sources:Archivio Storico Intesa Sanpaolo, Patrimonio Archivistico Cariplo, Opere d’arte. Atti d’acquisto ex Cariplo. Fald. 2/3, pratica no. 879 R/731


Dipinti e disegni dell'Ottocento, Semenzato Nuova Geri, Milano, 1997, n. 188 (documento non consultato);
Tesori d'arte delle banche lombarde, Associazione Bancaria Italiana, Milano, 1995, p. 228, ill. n. 420;
Paola Zatti, Ercole Calvi, Fontana settecentesca, in Sergio Rebora, a cura di, Le collezioni d’arte. L’Ottocento, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde, Milano, 1999, n. 36, p. 100, ill.

Elena Lissoni
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