There's something captivating about the sight of an abandoned architectural structure. Whether it be from modern times or ages past, slightly damaged or left in ruins, it stands as evidence of our presence on this planet, and once vacated and surrendered to the natural elements, it's jarring how quickly our earth begins the process of claiming the man-made structure for its own. Art depicting such subject matter, whether those scenes be real or imagined, rendered by hand or photographed, have always held a special appeal and will continue to attract admirers.
In preparation for today's Art for the Month of June installment, I found myself torn between two works and which one I wanted to use. Well, why not just feature them both? I'm sure you don't mind. The first is Thomas Hiram Hotchkiss's Torre di Schiavi, located in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the second is John Linton Chapman's The Appian Way, located in the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Both works were painted by Americans and depict ancient Roman ruins in Italy. Many 19th century American painters looked to Europe for landscape scenes which they knew would be littered with traces of past civilizations. I guess the beautiful, vast landscape of their homeland just wasn't tarnished enough for their liking!
In contrast to Caspar David Friedrich's gothic approach to his medieval cathedrals, I like how these two works feel less stylized aren't completely engulfed in shadow. As much as I enjoy Friedrich, his paintings are so heavy in atmosphere that the structures feel secondary. For the purpose of supplying a more natural rendering of its subject, I prefer the straight-forward approach offered by Hotchkiss and Chapman. They almost resemble postcards, which is not surprising considering photographic studies were undoubtedly used as reference.
Another item I must address is capriccio, a genre of painting which originated in the 18th century and focused exclusively on imaginary, fanciful architectural composites. It was not uncommon for such works to also feature ruins, usually lifted from roman structures. Perhaps the most well-known artist to work in this style was French painter Hubert Robert, though the genre was pioneered by Italians Marco Ricci and Giovanni Paolo Panini. Being aware that such scenes are imaginary, might that impact the way it's experienced by the viewer?
Furthermore, should Torre di Schiavi and Appian Way be accepted as completely accurate depictions of each site as witnessed by the painter? Perhaps certain variables were either added or extracted for artistic effect. That extravagant mosaic shown in Torre di Schiavi was actually inserted by Hotchkiss, though it was based on an actual painting from a recently excavated roman bath. How much alteration is too much? And does it really matter if the work was only intended as a simple study? Should it be considered a "timeless" portrayal or a serious document of scene at that specific point in history? Perhaps he removed the visitor center as well.
Either way, both of these works are absolutely striking when up close. I hope you'll appreciate the details behind the cut.
Details for Torre di Schiavi
Details for The Appian Way