Architectural Capriccio in a Grotto
  • Circle of Pierre Antoine de Machy
  • Paris 1723 - 1807
  • Architectural Capriccio in a Grotto
  • Oil on canvas
  • inscribed on the old frame: Vente Marseille 1857 / Hubert Robert
  • 413 × 575 mm
Private collection, Southern France

With great imagination and technical skill, the artist invites the beholder to stroll in this painting through enormous, ostensibly natural caves with splendidly converted halls. Water fountains in various niches which supply a little lake, archaizing vases, and richly ornamented pedestals with statues accompany the viewer’s eye over staircases and through arcades to a large portico, which opens up in the background. There, behind magnificent Corinthian columns, we can discern a passageway with niches full of sculptures; cornices and the vaulted ceiling are bedecked with opulent reliefs. The surfaces of all the pedestals and columns are portrayed as dripstones, in order to underscore the grotto-like character of the architecture. Daylight illuminates the front room through a cracked hole in the ceiling, and creates, through dramatic contrasts, the room’s enormous depth effect. Another, invisible light source bathes the large hall in the background in warm light.

This archaising and partially ruinous setting is reminiscent of some of the halls in the Domus Aurea, the grand remains of the Roman emperor Nero’s vast palace, which have excited artists’ imaginations ever since their rediscovery in the Renaissance. These halls, now underground, were later misunderstood as grottoes, and the term Grotesques emerged to describe their rich decorations.