Study of a landscape near Civita Castellana


Pencil, pen and brown ink on vellum
Inv. No. 16729 (Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein e. V.)

33.9 × 44.5 cm

zur  Biographie

This view of a tree-covered rock formation near Civita Castellana was drawn by Corot at the time of his first stay in Italy. During his sojourn in Rome – from 1825 to 1828 – he took very little interest in the great art on display in the museums and churches, instead concerning himself almost exclusively with the landscape. He felt drawn to nature: to the Roman Campagna, southward to the Alban Hills, Lake Nemi and Arricia, eastward to Subiaco and Olevano, and above all northward into the rugged region of the Sabini Mountains, to Narni, and twice, in the spring of 1826 and the autumn of 1827, to the rocky plateau of the small medieval town of Civita Castellana. On these excursions into very diverse regions, usually in the company of likeminded artists such as François-Edouard Bertin or the German Ernst Fries, it was not Corot’s intention to make a topographically correct plein-air drawing of a picturesque scene with the sole aim of using it later on in a painting. Rather, his many studies reveal how he virtually gained possession of the Italian landscape, combining his sensory perceptions with an analytical gaze.


In the Study of a landscape near Civita Castellana Corot uses pencil and pen to capture his impression of a selected section of the natural environment in a manner both reflective and experimental. He is interested in the shapes and the gradations of light and tone present in this strange symbiosis between a precipitous outcrop of rock and its covering of luxuriant vegetation. In the process of drawing, he applies his unerring instinct to bringing out the character of the wild, dense growth of sweet chestnut trees: they seem to form an organic entity, a single, primeval formation. By concentrating on their volume and the typical structure, the artist presents these trees as a rhythmically dynamic, three-dimensional arrangement of parts. While bold linear curves have been employed to outline the domed forms of the well-lit treetops, shading of varying density serves to indicate the shadowy depths of the intervening spaces. As the study of a motif, this study contrasts with a panorama showing Vesuvius and sketched by Corot on the reverse side in Naples in the spring of 1828. The Civita Castellana drawing, both vivid and subjective, clearly demonstrates why the young Corot’s »modern« approach to landscape was to exert such a powerful influence on the generation that followed, especially Cézanne.

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