This view is taken from the west bank of the Tiber looking towards the Castel Sant’Angelo. The specific event depicted has not been identified but river jousts were a popular official form of entertainment, and attracted large crowds of spectators.
The flag at the stern of the boat at the left bears the arms of the then pope, Benedict XIV, and four large pennants with his family arms also fly from poles attached to the Castel Sant’Angelo. It has been suggested that the painting includes portraits of Vernet, his wife and her father. However, it is more likely that the three prominent figures in the foreground are Vernet; Louis-Jules Barbon Mancini Mazarini, Duke of Nivernais, who commissioned two paintings from Vernet in 1750; and the Duke’s wife.
This was one of four paintings sent from Rome by Vernet to the Paris Salon of 1750.
This view is taken from the west bank of the Tiber looking towards the Castel Sant’Angelo. The projecting stone platform on which the uniformed musicians play appears in paintings by other artists, so probably existed, whereas the arcaded building with the canopied balcony over it has not been identified and may have been the product of Vernet’s imagination. The ruined remains of the ancient Pons Neronianus (Nero’s Bridge) can be seen in the middle of the river.
The clock on Castel Sant’Angelo reads 8 a.m. but the light would suggest that it is actually mid-morning. The specific event depicted has not been identified but river jousts were a popular entertainment associated with important births and marriages and the visits of monarchs to cities. As Vernet shows, such events attracted crowds of spectators.
The flag at the stern of the boat at the left bears the arms of the then pope, Benedict XIV, incorporating the three vertical red stripes of his family, the Lambertini. Four large Lambertini pennants also fly from poles attached to the Castel Sant’Angelo. There is no coat of arms on the white flag of the right-hand boat, or on the blue flag of the smaller boat in between. The caps worn by the seven rowers in each boat suggest that they are artisans.
In the Trumbull sale catalogue of 1797, it was said that the painting included portraits of Vernet, his wife and her father. If so, these may be the three brightly lit figures in the right foreground. Vernet had married Virginia Cecilia Parker, the daughter of the Irishman Mark Parker, a captain of the papal navy, in November 1745. Vernet also included himself in several of his other paintings. However, the man in the rich blue costume said to be Vernet’s father-in-law looks considerably younger than Parker would have been in 1750 and the lady arm-in-arm with the gentleman in red does not resemble Mme Vernet as depicted in Vanloo’s portrait of her of 1768 (Musée Calvet, Avignon).
It has also been suggested that the man in blue is Pierre-Charles de Villette, the first recorded owner of the painting, introducing the Vernets to his elder brother, but there is no evidence that either the Marquis de Villette or his brother was ever in Rome. It is more likely that he is Louis-Jules Barbon Mancini Mazarini, Duke of Nivernais, French ambassador to the Vatican from 1748 to 1752, who commissioned two paintings from Vernet in 1750. The Duke’s extensive household included two Swiss Guards and four trumpeters, who may be those included on the platform and to the left of Vernet’s painting. If this is so, then the woman accompanying Vernet may be Hélène-Françoise-Angélique Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain, who had married the Duke in 1731.
This was one of four paintings sent from Rome by Vernet to the Paris Salon of 1750. Vernet’s work was influenced by the seventeenth-century painters Claude, Poussin and Dughet, who had established the classical landscape tradition.
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