Figures before a locanda with a view of the Piazza del Popolo, Rome

Johannes Lingelbach (1622-74)

Figures before a locanda with a view of the Piazza del Popolo, Rome

c.1645-50

Oil on canvas

63.2 x 72.6 cm

Acquired by George IV when Prince of Wales in 1811


This is a classic Bamboccianti scene depicting Romans at their least prepossessing. During his first years in Rome Lingelbach (1622-74) lodged in this very street; had he chosen the locanda (hostel) depicted here, with its cheap paper windows and extraordinary projecting hatch, he would have had to pick his way through a variety of street traders: a ciambella (ring-shaped cake) seller, who also runs a girella (a species of roulette wheel banned in Rome at the time) and an old man mending a boy’s shoe while its owner sits in the dirt. Even the hostel door is barred by a blind musician playing a guitar while a boy sings and a suspicious young woman loiters. The armed man with his hat drawn over his eyes is even more sinister; he is certainly no mountebank, as has been suggested. Some context may be provided for this menacing presence and the couple in Spanish dress in the background by accounts of clashes between armed retainers of the kind which took place in 1646, at exactly the time Lingelbach was in Rome. Could this man be a retainer, the ‘hired gun’ of Baroque Rome? The lawless feudal warlord – the subject of Alessandro Manzoni’s historical novel, I Promessi Sposi, of 1824–7 – was a real phenomenon in the seventeenth century, as suggested by the fact that the Italian word barone meant at once a ‘baron’ and a ‘rogue’.

The setting here can be recognised from contemporary topographical sketches, and shows a road, square, walls and gate, all of which date from Roman times. As in views of the Forum, we meditate upon the contrast of former glory and present ignominy, except that during the Renaissance and Baroque periods (1500–1700), successive popes turned the Piazza del Popolo into one of Europe’s most spectacular urban spaces. Lingelbach does not seem anxious to celebrate this achievement: he omits Sixtus V’s obelisk and shows the Roman Via Paolina obstructed by a stone platform and street vendors. The urban planning of Rome was policed by a functionary ascribed to each parish (rione) called the ‘Master of the Streets’ (Magister viarum); this image depicts everything that he sought to eliminate.

Falsely signed lower right: KDJ

RCIN 404534


Text adapted from Dutch Landscapes, London, 2010