Giambattista BASSI

 The painting depicts an elegant young woman dressed according to the fashion of the time who is reading inside a room with an open window, from which it is possible to grasp a spot of Villa Borghese, which due to the representative choice and for the adoption of a close-up view, can be considered absolutely innovative. The background depicts a scene in which the protagonist is a chariot drawn by a pair of horses, depicted during its arrival to the semi-circular stable, situated in front of the south façade of the Casino del Muro Torto.


Outside the window it is possible to see the south-western corner of the Casino, situated on the extreme right hand side. The laurel hedge on the left delimitates the connecting street between the Casino and the Portale delle Aquile at the Muro Torto and which was planned by Antonio Asprucci between 1791 and 1793. Beyond the hedge it is possible to observe a pleasant garden with a fountain at its center and decorated with statues placed along its perimeter.


The garden was surrounded by the Giardino del Lago’s surrounding wall, which was also planned by Antonio Asprucci, along with his son Mario in 1775 and which along with the arches of the Acquedotto Felice¸ the Casino del Muro Torto’s fountains,fed the garden’s water basin already by mid XVIIth century. Among the Giardino del Lago’s dense trees, stands the Esculapio Temple’s top floor with ancient Roman statues which were restoredby Vincenzo Pacetti in his studio. Above the hill on the upper left it is possible to notice a building which was most probably part of the ‘casino’ commissioned by Prince Stanislao Poniatowski at the beginning of the XVIIth century, and planned by Giuseppe Valadier, situated in what is today Villa Strohl-Fern and wrecked during the battles between the defenders of the Repubblica Romana and the French invaders in June 1849.


Continuing to observe Bassi’s depiction of the garden, one can detect two small travertine sphinxes placed on the entrance gate’s pilasters, which had also been depicted in the same period by C.W. Eckserberg in 1813 and an engraving by G.B. Cipriani in 1817, which can be found today at the Museo di Roma.


In a plan of Villa Borghese which dates back to the end of the XVIIIth century[iii] (fig. 1), the garden appears to be simply crossed by two ortogonal streets. However, Ch. Percier and P. Fontaine’s later version of the plan of 1809 (fig. 2), clearly shows a formal garden divided in parterres, with three circular fountains situated symmetrically along the east-west axis. The room with the noblewoman in the process of reading and Bassi’s canvas’ observation point of the Villa Borghese spot, are located in a building which belonged to the villa, and which was destroyed during the battles of June 1849.


The appearance and the location of the casino are also well represented N.D. Boguet’s drawings (Rome, National Institute of Graphics, nn. Inv. FN 5621, FN 5957), which date between 1783 and 1790, and in another lithography by Giuseppe Mandoli of 1829.


It is however difficult to identify the young woman depicted by Bassi. The presence of a cartouche in Cyrillic on the back of the painting, related to the canvas’ exportation license of 1967, suggests that the lady might be a Russian noblewoman who arrived in Rome as a guest of the Borghese family. 


The historical-biographical events of the Borghese family of 1816 are characterized by Camillo Borghese and Paolina Bonaparte on the verge of separation, with Camillo living in his Florentine palace; Paolina in her palazzo Borghese apartment in Ripetta, before moving to her new dwelling in Porta Pia. All of this turmoil makes the research quite an arduous task. Verifying the presence of princesses and Russian noblewomen in Rome, it is possible to discover that she might have been one out two people. One of them is Princess Gallitzin, who reached Rome on the night of the 23rd November with four chariots,but the age difference with Bassi’s subject denies this hypothesis.



The other one is Alexandrine von Dietrichstein, formerly known as Countess Šuvàlova – daughter of the Counts Caterina Petrovna and Andrea Šuvàloff, and married to Prince Franz Joseph von Dietrichstein in 1797. Mother and daughter moved to Rome in 1807, in occasion of Alexandrine’s conversion to Catholicism, and after which the Princess stayed until her death in 1847. Alexandrine was elected ‘Accademica’ of San Luca on the 2nd July 1809 by the President Vincenzo Camuccini. 



Giovan Battista Bassi was a pupil of the landscapists Vittorio Martinelli and Francesco Rosaspina at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna which the artist attended since the year 1800 before settling permanently in Rome in 1810. After 1810 it did not take long for Bassi to obtain respect and friendship of many contemporary artists in Rome.


The painter soon abandoned the stereotypical Arcadian classicist landscape depictions that required the close-up study of reality of every single detail, followed by studio editing in order to obtain an improved final equilibrium and composure. Among those who favored the young artist from the Romagna region, and who inserted him in the Roman artistic circles as well those who introduced him to international collectors, we find Antonio Canova, Vincenzo Camuccini, Pietro Giordani, Massimo d’Azeglio, Bertel Thorvaldsen and Giulio Perticari.


Perticari for instance, expressed in many occasions very enthusiast comments in the “Giornale Arcadico” in regard to the quality of Bassi’s landscape depictions. Bassi’s public endorsement and favors he obtained – especially during his first two decades in Rome – explains the dispersion of many of his paintings around Europe and America. Among his works there is the participation to the illustration of Horatius’ Fifth Satire in 1816 and a fine edition of the Aeneid in 1818 – both pieces commissioned by Elizabeth Hervey, the Duchess of Devonshire.


He then received the assignment of painting the Caduta delle acque presso Terni (1820), depicting the Cascate delle Marmore which was also destined to be bought by English collectors.  The sixty identified replicas of this piece testify Bassi’s undeniable success during his career, but also a gradual and inevitable involution of his artistic production, which led him to seek easy consent rather than renovating an already waning creativity.


This negative feature had been already pointed out by Massimo d’Azeglio, who was usually generous in judging his friends, describing the replicas as if they had been “done with a metal stamp”. Another significant case of repetition of the same theme is the one of the two paintings both depicting the Giardino del Lago in Villa Borghese, painted in 1817 and 1828, and which can be respectively found at the Sacro Monte della Misericordia Picture Gallery of Naples and in a private collection.


These two pieces do reflect a substantial compositional identity, but then again it is possible to detect the stylistic differences that highlight the chronological gap of over one decade between the two pieces. The first painting in particular, is characterized by a crisp and cold atmosphere – typical of the XVIIIth century – while the other one is a quasi-romantic depiction with mixed warm yellow tones.