The exhibition Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteenth-century Europe, open until 30 July, 2017, at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, gathers together paintings that record spectacular events that took place in Europe’s greatest cities.  More than forty paintings are on view in the expansive galleries, spotlit against rich blue walls, which has the effect of drawing the viewer into the vibrant and complex scenes.  

Eyewitness Views explores the original function of these sorts of paintings, which range from modestly-sized to colossal, through the themed sections like “Souvenir and Reportage”, displaying popular vedute of Venice that were collected by foreign travelers, and “Memory and Manipulation.”  In the latter section, dignitaries are shown to their best advantage, entering cities surrounded by great fanfare, as in Michele Marieschi’s painting of Patriarch Antonio Correr passing under the Rialto Bridge in Venice. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a large number of the paintings in the exhibition reflect Italian civic and religious life.  Eighteenth-century travelers admired the cityscapes of Italy, animated through public spectacle.  Of particular note is Giuseppe Zocchi’s depiction of Siena’s Palio, a bare-back horserace that still takes places twice a year in the Piazza del Campo. This painting depicts a special Palio held in honor of the Grand Duke Francis of Tuscany and the Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria. In addition to festivals and celebrations, there are also scenes of destruction that tap into a human fascination with disaster, such as the Francesco Guardi painting of the Fire at San Marcuola, and the sublime paintings of Mount Vesuvius erupting.

Eyewitness Views is well situated at the Getty Center – as visitors leave the exhibition space they are greeted by their own spectacular view of the contemporary cityscape of Los Angeles. 

Posted by Maggie Bell 

Further Reading:

Findlen, Paula, Wendy Wassyng, Catherine M. Sama, and Matthew Sneider. 2009. Italy’s eigteenth century: gender and culture in the age of the Grand Tour. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Sweet, Rosemary. 2015. Cities and the grand tour: the British in Italy, c.1690-1820. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Gilroy, Amanda. 2000. Romantic geographies: discourses of travel, 1775-1844. Manchester [u.a.]: Manchester Univ. Press.

Michele Marieschi, The Rialto Bridge with the Festive Entry of the Patriarch Antonio Correr, 1735, oil on canvas 

Antonio Joli, The Courtyard of the Doge’s Palace with the Papal Nuncio Giovanni Francesco Stoppani and Senators in Procession, 1742 or after, oil on canvas

Giuseppe Zocchi, The Palio Race in the Campo in Honor of Grand Duke Francis of Tuscany and Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, 1739, oil on canvas

Francesco Guardi, The Fire at San Marcuola, about 1789-90, oil on canvas

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