The Ponte Solario in Rome
Vilhelm Petersen (1812-1880)

The Ponte Solario in Rome, 1852

Oil on paper laid down on panel., H. 0.23 m; W. 0.40 m

Dated and located with a pencil lower left: d. 15 Juni Salaro.

Provenance: Private collection.


Exh. cat. Vilhelm Petersen – en glemt guldaldermaler, Helsingør Kommunes Museer – Marienlyst Slot, Helsingør, 1990, p. 69, no. 223.

Until the 1980s, Petersen was a nearly forgotten painter, but today he is considered an important member of the Danish Golden Age. His works are compared to artists like Th. Lundbye, P.C. Skovgaard and Vilhelm Kyhn.

He studied at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen from 1831 to 1838, where he was taught by two of its most famous teachers, Christopher Wilhelm Eckersberg and Johan Ludvig Lund. Petersen excelled in producing intimate, naturalistic studies of everyday subjects. In his numerous plein-air sketches of the Danish landscape, he was especially fascinated by the interplay of light when the sea meets the sky.

He obtained a scholarship from the Academy and travelled via Germany and Austria to Italy, where he stayed from 1850 to 1852. He found it so inspirational that he tried to prolong his stay there by writing to the Academy pleading for more money. As the funds were not forthcoming, he had to return home at the end of 1852. In Copenhagen, Petersen became a teacher of drawing and geometry at the Mariboe school, and also taught in various private homes. In the summer months he continued to do plein-air paintings. He got married quite late, in 1864, and had a daughter. He exhibited his landscapes at the Academy shows at Charlottenborg, nearly every year from 1833 to 1875.

This beautiful painting depicts Ponte Salario, also called Ponte Salaro during the Middle Ages. Built during the Roman Empire, the bridge supported Via Salaria and crossed the Aniene River slightly upstream from where it meets the Tiber. The large tower, appearing in a painting by Johann Christoph Erhard dating from 1820, was probably erected in the 8th century, allowing the passage to be better monitored. In 1798, the Ponte Salario took a beating from Napoleon’s troops, who tore down the railing, and in 1829 the Medieval tower was demolished. Our painting was done before the papal troops took down the central arch in 1867. A new bridge was built in 1870, and expanded in 1930.

The painting was probably done on the spot, and is typical of Petersen’s art and of Danish plein-air landscape painters. His talent is obvious in the richness of his handling of the oils, the perspective and the refined use of colour.