View of a Monastery in the Roman Countryside, 1819
Oil on canvas, H. 0.98 m; W. 1.38 m
Signed and dated lower left: Verstappen. f 1819
Provenance: Private collection
Martin Verstappen’s artistic training took place in the classrooms of the Antwerp Academy and in the studios of Van Regemorter, Myin and Ommeganck. He then travelled to Germany to fine-tune his skills; there, he discovered and studied the works of Claude Lorrain and Jacob van Ruysdael, both of which had a long-term influence on the way he painted. Verstappen settled in Rome in 1805, where he remained until the end of his life. He frequented his compatriot Simon Denis, who introduced a decisive orientation to his style. The two paintings he exhibited at the Salon of 1810, Vue prise du mont Artemisia and Vue du couvent de St-François, à l’Arricia, près le lac Albano won him the honour of a gold medal. His growing reputation helped him get admitted to the Academy of Saint Luke in 1813 as an academician of merit.
When he completed this painting, Verstappen was at the very height of his career in Rome. Respected by his contemporaries, he counted members of the Italian aristocracy among his clients, as well as the King of Naples, Ludwig of Bavaria, and Joséphine de Beauharnais. The beginning of the 19th century in Rome was characterized by an exchange between French and foreign artists, particularly among the landscape painters, for whom the frequent excursions into the Roman countryside helped renew the pictorial language. At around the same time, the landscape genre was official recognized through the creation of the Prix de Rome of historical landscapes. Landscape painting thus found itself at the hinge that connected the precocious neoclassicism inherited from the previous century, and the naturalist aspirations that heralded Realism.
Verstappen thereby contributed to transforming, and modernising, landscape painting. He worked on plein-air studies, and his picturesque views aim to capture the beauty of the Roman countryside. Our painting relies on the principles of a balanced composition: after a shady foreground comes a middle ground bathed in soft Italian light. The effect of depth is accentuated by the use of an aerial perspective in the background, as well as the objects found on the sides: the tree, struck by lightning, on the right, and a rocky cliff on the left, serve to frame the composition and guide the spectator’s eye towards the centre of the painting, occupied by a classic monastery. The end of the religious service is the opportunity to capture several groups of people in traditional dress, who help animate the landscape and add to the general harmony of the piece.