A View Through Three of the North-western Arches of the Third Storey of the Coliseum

C.W.Eckerberg (1783-1853)
1813-1816 Se tidslinje
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen Se kort

By Trine Møller Madsen, art and culture writer, 2006

Rome in the viewfinder 

Like the photographer who finds the right crop of his motif through the viewfinder, C.W. Eckersberg (1783-1853) has chosen his quite special crop of a panoramic view of the roofs of Rome. He found it on top of Rome’s most famous antique monument, with the three arches of the Colosseum’s brickwork framing the motif. In fact, the arches create three pictures in one. They work as a type of setting that stages the motif - guides the eye and helps tell the story. 
By using the three peepholes in the historic brickwork, Eckersberg succeeded in creating a unique focus on Rome at the time. It was not by accident; for Eckersberg and all the artists had their eyes turned towards the Italian capital in their search for the artistic truth. The idea is of course that you should do the same. 

A piece of reality? 

Notice all the details (also in the title!). Everything is there. Every little straw. Every little stone. Even the smallest crack in the crude architecture. With his precise registering and reproduction. Eckersberg caught the new trend in Europe - Naturalism which aimed to picture nature as it really looked. But don’t be fooled! We are not viewing an “accidental” piece of reality. Eckersberg’s spectacles are not 100% objective. He has created the motif as beautiful and seductive as possible - with classical instruments such as balance and stringent, clean lines. And then there are the contrasts in the picture creating quiet drama: the sunlight to the left and the storm clouds to the right. The wild, crudely painted nature in the foreground and, in the background, civilised urban space painted with neat brush strokes. 

The father of the Golden Age painting 

It was quite new - both Eckersberg’s choice of motif and his inventive framing. Eckersberg was the first artist in Denmark to be interested in the landscapes and urban spaces that were to become the principal motifs of the Golden Age (app. 1815-1850). His sharp observation and precise painting technique became the ideal for the coming generation of famous, Danish painters. 

Three Arches in Colosseum's Third Storey, made in 1815 or 1816. Oil on canvas, 32 x 49,5 cm. Statens Museum for Kunst.
Three Arches in Colosseum's Third Storey, 1815. The preperation for the painting. Pencil on paper, 31,8 x 49 cm. Statens Museum for Kunst.
Visual Arts

Did you know?

Source: Peter Michael Hornung og Kasper Monrad, C.W. Eckersberg: dansk malerkunsts fader, s. 165, Forlaget Palle Fogtdal, 2006.

One would immediately believe that Eckersberg's painting shows a precise representation of a view seen from a certain point in the Colloseum. There are, in fact, three different prospects that are merged into one. From the point where Eckersberg seems to have been sitting, one cannot see all the prospects shown in the picture.

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Visuel Art, 2006

During his three-year sojourn in Rome, C.W. Eckersberg completed his painting of the view from the Coliseum over the roofs of Rome. The motif is portrayed from the third storey, where he stood just inside the walls and looked over the city’s roofs through the arches. It is his personal view, with which we who view it can identify. We look through Eckersberg’s eyes. If the view of Rome had not been portrayed through the three arches, the city’s panorama would have been just an anonymous perspective. In this instance, we see Eckersberg’s personal experience of the view. The dramatic storm lighting of the painting, with the grey-blue clouds meeting the strong sun, plays nicely on the buildings. The entire foreground of the image, with the roughly cut stone and the wild grass, is painted with a spontaneous brush, in contrast to its background, where each brush stroke is meticulously applied.

It is characteristic of the painters of the Golden Age, who carefully portrayed nature in accordance with the motif as seen. Every detail, each shaft of light, was portrayed as truly as possible. That is what Eckersberg taught his students for many years as a professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.
All of Eckersberg’s completed prospectuses from Rome were hung in the professor’s residence at Charlottenborg, and they were diligently studied by the many students. Everyone was captivated by the perspective and the precise portrayal of surfaces, colours and lines. The students were influenced to go out and sketch the real world for the final paintings that they would subsequently paint in their studios.


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