In this view of Ponte Rotto (‘broken bridge’) on the River Tiber in Rome, the bridge is clearly in use, despite it no longer spanning the river, as laundry flaps from washing lines on the bridge and several figures can be seen on it.
Ponte Rotto was the first stone bridge to cross the Tiber and is the oldest bridge in Rome. It was originally known as Pons Aemilius and was begun in 179 BC and completed in 142 BC. It survived almost entirely intact until 1598, when floods swept away two supporting piers causing three of the arches to collapse. Two of the three remaining arches seen in this painting were dismantled in 1885 to leave only the single arch in the middle of the river, which survives today.
Artist William Marlow painted numerous Italian scenes following his stay in Italy from 1765 to 1766, including a second view of this bridge, painted from the opposite side. Rome was commonly the final destination of the Grand Tour and consequently paintings like this were popular souvenirs with wealthy Englishmen returning from the tour.
Landscapist William Marlow was born in London or Southwark. He trained in the studio of marine painter Samuel Scott in Covent Garden (1756-61) and is also thought to have studied at the St Martin’s Lane Academy. Marlow spent his early career travelling around England in search of subjects; painting English country houses and the areas around Twickenham, Richmond, and the lower banks of the Thames. On the advice of the Duchess of Northumberland he travelled to France and Italy (1765-66). He exhibited at the Society of Artists, becoming Vice-President in 1778, and at the Royal Academy. Marlow lived for a time in Leicester Fields (now Leicester Square). His one pupil was John Curtis. In c.1785 he retired to Twickenham, where he died aged 72.
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