GASPAR VAN WITTEL, called VANVITELLI (Amersfoort 1652/53 - 1736 Rome)

Gaspar van Wittel, called Vanvitelli (Amersfoort 1652/53 - 1736 Rome)

Piazza della Bocca della Verità, with Santa Maria in Cosmedin and the Temple of Hercules Victor, Rome

Medium: Oil on canvas, 74 x 135 cm

Signed and dated Gaspar van Wittel 1719, lower left, upon the wall

The present view depicting Piazza Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth Square) must have been taken after 1717, for the work on the reconstruction of the Piazza under Clemente XI (1700-1721) and the erection of the fountain was concluded on his date. A preparatory drawing by Van Wittel, which depicts exactly the same view, is now in the Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, inv. 123.

Piazza Bocca della Verità is located between Via Luigi Petroselli and Via della Greca in Rome (Italy), in the rione Ripa. The square lies in the ancient area of the Forum Boarium, just in front of the Tiber Island; it takes its name from the Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth), a sculpted relief placed under the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, depicted in the present picture to the left.To the right of the church, are square houses dating back to the late Middle Ages, while the fountain in front of the temple, entitled Fountain of the Tritons, was released by Carlo Bizzaccheri under the commission of Pope Clement XI and erected in the square in 1715; it has an octagonal basis and portrays two tritons supporting a shell from which the water springs. To the right is the Temple of Hercules Victor, dating from the later 2nd century BC, and perhaps erected by L. Mummius Achaicus, conqueror of the Acheans and destroyer of Corinth. The temple is a monopteros, that is, a round temple of Greek ‘peripteral’ design completely encircled by a colonnade.  This layout caused it to be mistaken for a temple of Vesta until it was correctly identified by Napoleon’s Prefect of Rome, Camille de Tournon.  By 1132 the temple had been converted to a church, known as Santo Stefano alle Carozze (St. Stephen 'of the carriages'). Additional restorations (and a fresco over the altar) were made in 1475. A plaque on the floor was dedicated by Sixtus IV.  In the 17th century the church was rededicated, to Santa Maria del Sole ("St. Mary of the Sun").   The walled church garden and houses to the right of the Temple lead to an opening, where the Tiber can be seen with shipping, rowing boats and passers by. 

The staffage that animates the scene is entirely absent in the preparatory drawing.  Throngs of local people – musicians, beggars, soldiers, monks, drunkards - going about their daily business give a sense of a typical day in Vanvitelli’s Rome.