NICOLAS VLEUGHELS (1668-1737)
THE PORTA TIBURTINA (NOW PORTA SAN LORENZO), ROME
Bears collector's stamp l.l. [L.3529]
Inscribed verso u.m. A L. ...[?]
Inscribed verso l.l. porte pleinchane . faite ce 21 Septembre 1708
Pen & ink with wash
16.5 x 20.5 cm
Nicos Dhikeos (1896-1987), Cyprus [Lugt 3529];
Private Collection, France
Esther Giachetti, Nicolas Vleughels (1668-1737) : réception, amitiés, échanges entre Paris, Venise et Rome, École de Louvre, Mémoire de récherche en Histoire de l'art appliquée aux collections Septembre 2023, Appendix I (Corpus des Oeuvres), Fig. 14 [copy available upon request from the Gallery]
We are grateful to Professor Martin Eidelberg for endorsing the attribution of this work on the basis of a first-hand examination. A copy of Prof. Eidelberg's analysis of the drawing is available upon request. Prof. Eidelberg notes that the present work can also be compared with another study of a Roman gate by Vleughels, now in the Louvre, Paris (Porte fortifiée aux abords de Rome, inv. RF 42631, see final image above). Drawings from this period by Vleughels, hugely influential as a teacher and proponent of drawing in-situ, but less well-known as a draughtsman in his own right, are remarkably scarce, and the present work provides an intriguing insight into the master's own practice in Rome.
The present work can be compared to a series of Roman drawings in pen & brown ink with grey washes by Vleughels now in the Louvre, Paris, with several dated in a similar hand to 1708, and others to the artist’s later time in Italy as director of the French Academy. Another closely comparable example, inscribed in the same format and a very similar hand, is Maison de campagne vue à Orvieto (inv. 34998), which was first attributed to Vleughels by Pierre Rosenberg in 1973 and later accepted as an autograph work by Martin Eidelberg in 2015.
The subject of the present work, and the perspective from which it is drawn, was one that was popular with Northern artists from the time of Jan Asselijn right the way through to the later years of the French Academy, with similar extant drawings by artists including Gottfried Vals, Bonaventura van Overbeek, Francois-Marius Granet, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, and J.M.W. Turner among others.
Vleughels was born in Paris, the son of the Flemish painter Philippe Vleughels, himself a native of Antwerp who had emigrated to Paris. The Vleughels were part of a sizeable community of Flemish artists and artisans in Paris, and Nicolas is said to have studied with one of the more prominent members of this group, Pierre Mignard. Both father and son maintained close ties with other Flemish expatriates in their profession, most notably Antoine Watteau, who would go on to learn from Nicolas himself. Like many of his Flemish forebears, Nicolas was keen to visit Italy to advance his skills and knowledge; however, he only obtained the Académie’s second prize in their annual Prix de Rome competition, and therefore had to fund his trip without the aid of a scholarship. It seems that this was an impossibility for a time, as Vleughels is only recorded as arriving in Rome by c.1703.
In spite of the difficult start to his career, Vleughels thrived in Rome, becoming one of the best-connected French artists in the city, which had already become like a second Paris, thanks to the establishment of the Academie de France some four decades prior to the artist’s arrival. Vleughels’ first sojourn in Italy was remarkably lengthy: he spent thirteen years in Rome, living in the Palazzo Farnese (the home of the French Academy before it moved to the Villa Medici). Vleughels did not confine himself to Rome however, visiting Venice in August of 1707. Intriguingly, he is thought to have returned to Venice as late as 1709, suggesting perhaps that our sketch was worked up from an earlier drawing during this period; however, it is perhaps more plausible that the paucity of extant records of his itinerary between mid-1707 to 1709 account for this and that he was indeed in Rome later in 1707, before returning to Venice again.. He travelled to Modena, where he met Rosalba Carriera and a local Abbate with whom he maintained an extensive correspondence, and appears to have been tangentially involved in the legendary sale of the late Duke of Mantua’s collection during this period also.
Vleughels went next to Modena, remaining there for almost a year in the company of his correspondent and close friend the Abate Grasseti, who had likely gained Vleughels access to the Mantuan collection, given his links to the Este court. It may also have been Grassetti who initiated Vleughels’ prolonged correspondence with the leading pastellist of the age, Rosalba Carriera. Among the other locations Vleughels is known to have visited (and there may be further sites not mentioned in the documentary evidence that survives) were Correggio, Ferrara, Piacenza and Padua. In each city, Vleughels likely sketched not only the local topography and architecture but, more importantly for his own career, made copies after the paintings by the Old Masters which he encountered. Several of these copies survive, including five after works in the Este collection.
Among Vleughels numerous correspondences, one of the most important for historians today is that with Pierre Crozat, a leading collector of drawings, ‘amateur’ of the arts, and an influential writer. Vleughels assisted Crozat with research on the life of Corregio (the artist) and kept up extensive correspondence (as well as a social friendship, their various itineraries permitting) with his friend for many years. Once back in Paris, where Crozat kept a house, Vleughels appears to have become much closer friends with the young Antoine Watteau, who was also well-acquainted with Crozat. They lived together for four years, and Watteau produced a number of prints after Vleughels’ drawings, including several of his Roman landscape sketches.
Vleughels went on to become co-director of the French Academy in Rome in 1724, and here he acted as a crucial contact point between French and Italian artists in the first half of the eighteenth century.
Notes & Bibliography
 'Le sieur Vleughels fait fort bien de promener les élèves; ce serait un bon coup s’il pouvait leur donner le bon goût du paysage', Correspondance des Directeurs de l’Académie de France à Rome avec les Surintendants des Bâtiments, publiée d’après les manuscrits des Archives Nationales, 18 vols (Paris: Anatole de Montaiglon and Jules-Joseph Guiffrey, 1887–1912), 7: November 25, 1724
Cited in N. Atkinson & S. Caviglia, 'Making sense of Rome in the eighteenth century: walking and the French aesthetic imagination', in Word & Image,vol.34, no. 3 (2018), p.221
[i] B. Hercenberg, Nicolas Vleughels, Paris (1975)