A hotel as an art gallery
The Rome painting collection in the Hotel Victoria
Rome is known as the Eternal City – and quite rightly so, as no other city has such a high density of architectural testimonies to the past two and a half millennia. Many artists from across Europe have painted this unique urban landscape. Around 500 of these paintings are hanging on all storeys of the Hotel Victoria.
Who wants to stay "just anywhere" when visiting Rome? No-one! We want to breathe in the atmosphere of the Eternal City and live in close proximity to what has lent Rome its unique title. This is possible in two ways – in the Hotel Victoria. Firstly the hotel is located directly next to the wonderful example of ancient Roman urban architecture, the Aurelian Wall from the third century. Secondly, the atmosphere of the Eternal City pervades the entire interior of the hotel. The walls in the salons, in the restaurant, in all corridors and rooms are decorated with views of the urban Roman landscape.
Visitors to the "Victoria" not only benefit from its central location near Rome's squares and parks, churches and palaces. They can also get to know other important cultural and historical aspects of the city "at home" at their own leisure - Rome as a centre of European painting from the 17th to the 19th century. During the Renaissance and Baroque periods, religious themes dominated art in the city of churches. However, at the end of the 17th century the city became a popular destination for artists from other countries who were not looking for religious scenes. In fact the interest in Ancient Rome and its many intact monuments in the city itself meant that the number of people interested in purchasing paintings of such motifs was on the steady increase. At the same time it was possible to satisfy the burgeoning longing for the strange and foreign of the time by depicting scenes from south, which had such exotic appeal.
Landscape painting was another type of art that was also discovered in Rome at the time, especially by the French. They were also the first artists that dedicated their time and work to the light of the southern regions. The French and also German, Flemish and Italian artists who preferred depicting the ruins and different types of people, then created views that did not actually exist, and their paintings almost only showed idealised scenes of shepherds with their flocks surrounded by Roman ruins. This collection, that was assembled by the art connoisseur and collector Rolf H. Wirth, grandson of the hotel founder and now its director, starts with a significant group of these early paintings and then follows the subsequent development of Roman painting.
In the 18th century Rome was an important stage on the "Grand Tour" of young aristocrats to Italy from all over Europe. Although the Grand Tour was initially a form of entertainment, it soon became an educational trip that often lasted many years, mainly centred on Rome and Naples and their ancient edifices.
The sophisticated and very rich travellers of the time, who normally only came to Italy once in their lifetimes, wanted to show everyone at home what they had seen and take souvenirs with them. They were looking for realistic depictions of the places they had visited or that had impressed them most, and were prepared to pay large sums of money for these. For this reason the artists in Rome increasingly become so-called "vedudista" - landscape painters. They mainly painted precise views of monuments and landscapes that were no longer idealistic, but realistic. Until the end of the 18th century the subjects of the paintings were often randomly put together to create an overall view that did not actually exist, but that depicted various objects in one painting to remind the travellers of where they had been. Such a painting is called a "capriccio" – and there are several wonderful examples of these at the "Victoria".
This lucrative business attracted increasing numbers of artists to Rome from across Europe, and at the end of the 18th century there were apparently around 170 foreign artists living in Rome. The many artists, the popular subjects and the wild, dramatic surrounding landscape that played an important role in Romanticism, a movement that was evolving at the time, meant that Rome was the preferred destination of all young painters at around the middle of the 19th century. Another main attraction was naturally also the prospect of financial independence.
Most artists had to focus fully on the vedute. Others who could afford to paint for their own pleasure and not just to survive started for the first time to paint "as nature intended" – a revolutionary idea that was to have far-reaching effects on the future of art. While some only painted "intimate landscapes", as time progressed the vedutistas included elements of nature into their views, incorporating more trees and other plants. The warm southern light also gained in importance. A large number of these romantic vedute of Rome and Tivoli can be viewed at the "Victoria". They were mainly painted by German, Danish and Swiss artists. As these large paintings were already very expensive at the time, and in the 19th century increasing number of visitors came to Rome who did not have the tremendous financial resources of the aristocrats of the 18th century, more vedute were created as outline drawings and lithographs. They were then coloured, but could still be produced in series. The Wirth collection contains several hundreds of these from this period that are now very much in demand.
In the 1860s the "Liberation Wars" that ultimately led to the unification of Italy also reached the south. As a result travellers stayed away and there was hardly any work left for the artists in Rome. In addition the advent of photography meant that the demand for vedute dropped dramatically. Rome therefore became unattractive to young artists who preferred to settle in Munich and Paris for further training and to develop their skills.
After the large-scale but empathic renovation of the hotel in the new millennium, the Roman urban scenes and landscape paintings of the surrounding area have now found a home in the right place. While staying at the Victoria, visitors to Rome can refresh their impressions of the day with the paintings of the city and its environs that cover the walls of the hotel, and at the same time immerse themselves in a period of history in which only the chosen few were able to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Eternal City. In today's world in which images appear and are deleted at the touch of a button, the views of Rome in the Hotel Victoria gain a new quality – they make time stand still.