Codazzi’s painting depicts the triumphal arch that was dedicated by the people of Rome to the Emperor Constantine in AD 315. It is the largest surviving classical arch and was painted on several occasions by Viviano Codazzi, one of the most important painters of architectural subjects in seventeenth-century Italy. Artists had been interested in the monuments of ancient Rome for many years, particularly since the Renaissance, but the depiction of architectural ruins as the setting for scenes of contemporary life only emerged as a genre in the seventeenth century. Two relatively humble houses can be seen in the middle ground, separated from the classical grandeur of the Arch by a long wall. These houses appear in other paintings by Codazzi, and probably did stand on the site, but the obelisk on the right is a feature invented by the artist. This kind of painting, in which actual structures are combined with imaginary ones, or in which architectural features from different locations are grouped together in one image, is known as a ‘capriccio’.
Viviano Codazzi was born in Bergamo, northern Italy, in the first decade of the 17th century. He travelled south to Naples, where he is first recorded in 1634, although he had probably arrived in the 1620s. He painted views of Rome, even before leaving Naples for the capital, in 1647, working from topographical prints and architectural treatises. Although the genre of architectural painting was not considered among the highest forms of art in 17th century Italy (and indeed the Bamboccianti were actively looked down upon by many), Codazzi’s paintings were popular among private collectors in Rome. His influence can be seen in the work of 18th-century artists such as Gian Paolo Panini (c.1692-1765).
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