Sunday, 8 July 2018

Stefano della Bella’s etching, “Grazing horses at the Pyramid of Cestius”, c1646


Stefano della Bella (1610–1664)

“Grazing horses at the Pyramid of Cestius” (Rijksmuseum title), c1646, plate 13 from the series of 13 round compositions, “Views of Roman ruins and landscapes”.
(Note: François Langlois [1588–1647] published this plate as number “11” in state ii; see Rijksmuseum no. RP-P-OB-35.106. The numbering of the plate is also different in states iii and iv [of vi].)

Etching on wove paper with small margins backed with a support sheet.
Size: (sheet) 14.9 x 14.7 cm; (plate) 13.3 x 13.5 cm; (diameter of circular image borderline) 13 cm
Numbered on plate at upper right: “13”
Lettered on the plate at lower left edge: "Stef. Della Bella inuent fecit."
State vi (of vi)

De Vesme/Massar 1971 829.VI (A.de Vesme 1971, revised by Phyllis D.Massar, “Stefano della Bella”, New York); Jombert (Della Bella) 188-1 (Charles Antoine Jombert 1772, “Essai d'un catalogue de l'oeuvre d'Etienne de la Belle, peintre et graveur florentin”, Paris, p. 113, cat. no. 743)

The British Museum offers the following description of this print:
“Plate numbered 13; pyramid of Caius Cestius; the pyramid behind to right, next to a ruined wall, with two horses at centre, one suckling a foal, and two herdsmen to right, one pointing towards left”
See also the Rijksmuseum’s description of this print:
“A landscape with two grazing horses in the foreground, a foal and two figures on the right. In the background the Pyramid of Cestius.”

Condition: crisp, well-inked and well-printed impression in very good condition (i.e. there are no tears, holes, creases, abrasions, stains or foxing) with small margins (approx. 7 mm) and backed with an archival support sheet of millennium quality washi paper.

I am selling this round formatted image revealing Della Bella’s interest in referencing Roman antiquity for AU$146 in total (currently US$108.53/EUR92.30/GBP81.67 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world (but not, of course, any import duties/taxes imposed by some countries).

If you are interested in purchasing this visually arresting composition with grazing horses and Cestius’ pyramid, please contact me (oz_jim@printsandprinciples.com) and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.


I love circular/tondo compositions! In the case of this image, the direction of light portrayed falling on the scene from the upper-right lends the impression—at least to my eyes—that the space framed by the round borderline is like looking into a concave surface (e.g. a soup spoon). Of course, when the artist originally inscribed the image on the printing plate the light would have been shown falling from the upper-left creating the impression of a convex surface (e.g. the back of a soup spoon).

Although the angle of lighting in this scene helps to project the idea that the portrayed scene is pictorially sunken into a porthole-like concavity, there is an anomaly in the way that the artist has arranged the dark areas of the composition that counters the notion of a concavity: the arrangement of shadowy dark tones at the lower right. When the composition is looked at with half-closed eyes, this crescent of darkness gives the impression—again, at least to my eyes—that the surface plane of the image is convex rather than concave. An illusion and a conundrum that counteracts perception of the image as a concave surface.






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