Giambattista Pittoni, attributed
Unknown, circa 1530 – 1583 Vicenza

Imaginary Ancient Cityscape
Black chalk underdrawing, pen and dark brown ink on laid paper.

Combined maximum: 130 x 172 mm. | 5-18 x 6-68 in.
Main Sheet: 130 x 123 mm. | 5-18 x 4-78 in.
Extension (ex-patch): 66 x 49 mm. | 2-58 x 1-78 in.

Recto: Along lower edge, difficult to decipher, probably erased.
Verso: “Gi_ilous__” in red chalk, upper left; “16 Franc” / “LC” or “ZC” in blue pencil in high center; “3” in pen and brown ink by an earlier hand, along center of lower edge.

Battista Pittoni is best known for etchings of Rome and fanciful views of ancient towns and cities. The fantastic views are generally set in wide landscapes, often flanking rivers, but also by the sea or in mountainous regions. Aqueducts, obelisks, and temples punctuate the terrain. Pittoni’s more topographic views of Rome and its environs were copied from the Antwerp artist and print publisher, Hieronymus Cock, who in turn, was a great appropriator. The etchings of fantastic places were of mostly of Pittoni’s own invention and were published as a set of twenty-four plates in 1561. They were particularly appealing to contemporary artists, Paolo Veronese among them, who used the designs in villa fresco cycles. Konrad Oberhuber and Richard Turner in the 1960s discovered, independently of one another, the relationship between Pittoni’s etching and Veronese’s frescoes in the Palladio designed Villa Barbaro at Maser. Since then a number of mural projects have been linked to Pittoni’s etchings. Mirella Cavalli, who also provides an excellent biography of the artist, lists the following: Villa Godi at Lonedo di Lugo (Vicenza); Villa Emo at Fanzolo di Vedelago (Treviso); Villa di Rovero at Caerano (Treviso); Villa Foscari at Gambarare di Mira (Venice); and Palazzo Mocenigo at Padua.

The present drawing’s imaginary antique city recalls Rome and Verona. The amphitheater is closer to Verona’s Arena, with its two stories, than Rome’s higher Colosseum. However, the view is more to be read as an ancient city in general, and not a specific place. Pittoni’s cities are not orderly and whole, as they were in antique times. Crumbling ruins, with vining plants working their way up walls and growing out of crevices, show that dilapidation and decay were as appealing to 16th century artists as to the later 18th century capriccio artists.

The arcaded ruin at the left has a jagged dark line marking its coarse edge. It is a useful shorthand for delineating ruins and a drawing in the Louvre (inv. no. 5865) shows a similar solution being used for a fallen palace wall. The Louvre drawing is attributed to Battista Pittoni. The drawings share a number of common details, such as rubble in the foreground, the manner in which the leaves are drawn, the similarity of the cornices.  In technique, the use of hatching and cross hatching as well as curving sets of lines to show the contour of the land are common to the two works. The Louvre has four drawings either by or attributed to Pittoni, making it the collection with the greatest number of drawings by the artist. A look at the four drawings (LINK leads to drawings) makes it clear that Pittoni frequently included clusters of rapidly executed people. Often the figures lean in a slightly exaggerated way. This serves to animate them—give them purpose—as well as enliven the landscapes.

Battista Pittoni’s interest in architecture came from his father. Girolamo Pittoni da Lumignano was a stonemason in Vicenza and was a co-owner of the Pedemuro Workshop, which produced elaborate stone decoration for Vicenza buildings.  Like Andrea Palladio, who got his start working in the Pedemuro Workshop and remained there for about ten years, Battista was also fascinated by classical architecture. Battista’s involvement, however, was always in two dimensions. The artist had two other lines of work—he produced miniatures, as did his wife Gasparina (untraced for husband and wife); and he was an art dealer. The Venetian sculptor Alessandro Vittoria wrote of buying works of art by Parmigianino in 1558 from Pittoni. He bought a “libretto” of drawings and a pear-wood panel with a painting of the Cumaean Sibyl and the Emperor Octavian.

The triangular extension at the left was discovered by a paper conservator, who removed what looked like a plain patch on the verso of the drawing. It had been used to mend a horizontal tear. The conservator was pleasantly surprised and said that she had not encountered this sort of repair before. The extension shows that the arcade extended further to the left and enables us to read the temple beyond that archway as a round temple, much like Bramante’s Tempietto.

Many thanks to Professor Bernard Aikema of the University of Verona, who suggested we look at Pittoni and other mainland Venetian artists of the mid 16th century, in regard to this drawing.