GIOVANNI VOLPATO & ABRAHAM-LOUIS-RODOLPHE DUCROS (1735-1833 & 1748-1810)
LE TOMBEAU D'ADRIEN OU CHATEAU ST ANGE (c.1780)
Watercolour, possibly over faint etched outlines, heightened with bodycolour, on laid paper
25.5 x 44.5 cm
Private collection, Switzerland
D. Agassiz, A.-L. Ducros, peintre et graveur, Lausanne (1927), p.36
The only other versions of this very scarce subject by Ducros & Volpato to be found in institutional collections are those in the British Library in London, the Nationalmuseum of Stockholm, the Goethe Museum in Dusseldorf, and the RKD in The Hague. Those versions are larger in format than the present sheet (measuring 37.2 x 52.9 cm), with a different figure to the bow of the ship in the lower left foreground than those in the present work. It is possible that the present work was therefore a prototype, before the pair settled on the final arrangement for their larger-scale published work. The subject was one of a group of eight views published by Ducros and Volpato which were more compact than the larger works in the Vues de Rome et de ses environs (1780).
Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe was the son of a drawing master at Yverdon College. He was born in Moudon and came to Geneva in 1769, to study under Nicolas-Henri-Joseph de Fassin. He subsequently left for Italy, establishing himself in Rome at the end of 1776: it was a difficult time for a young vedutisto to make his way, as the field was largely dominated by the Hackert brothers (Johann Philip & Johann Gottlieb) and was on the precipice of an influx of innovative, gifted British artists like Towne, Pars and Jones. Fortunately for Ducros, in 1778 he was employed by two Dutch noblemen to accompany them on a four-month voyage to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and Malta where he created close to three hundred watercolours (held currently by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam). This trip ‘put him on the map’ as it were for likeminded clients and his artistic peers.
Ducros remained in Rome from 1777 to 1793, working as a landscape painter, largely in watercolours (his oils are, comparatively, very rare). It was his business partnership with the Italian engraver Giovanni Volpato that secured his legacy, however. Volpato, already renowned for his engravings of the Papal loggia frescos and decorations, would provide Ducros with the etched outlines of scenes which Ducros particularly liked and had sketched or painted previously (as in the case of the present work); Ducros could then concentrate on colouring these with watercolour, without having to work up the outlines afresh each time. This also meant that the pair could effectively produce the most popular Grand Tourist views with a swift turnaround for clients, and with a consistency of quality that some artists would struggle with. Furthermore, the canny Tourist could purchase such works for less than the more costly oils or gouaches of Hackert et al, and could rest assured that only the cognoscenti could spot the difference in quality between the etched works and an original watercolour by Ducros (and even then, only on close inspection usually). In collaboration with the Volpato, Ducros published twenty-four engravings depicting views of Rome and its surrounding.