OIL PAINTING: The St Peter's in Rome, 1711
Van Vittel (Gaspare Vanvitelli in Italy) specialized in topographically accurate views of cities. Portraits of cities and specific buildings were not new in his days, Dutch and Flemish contemporaries in Italy also made urban views. However, van Wittel was the first Italianate to concentrate on the category.
Van Wittel's topographical views are called 'vedute'. Although the term was used in Italy to characterize pictures of Rome and its environs long before van Wittel appeared on the scene, he is rightly credited with establishing vedute as an independent category of painting. In his time the term began to be used to characterize portrayals of other cities and their sites. Van Wittel's own oeuvre includes some of Venice, Florence, Bologna, Naples, and other places on the Italian peninsula. Strictly speaking one can speak of vedute of Amsterdam, Paris, London, Dresden, St. Petersburg, and so forth, but customary usage confines the term to topographical views of Italy.
Van Wittel starts in Italy by following the tradition established in the sixteenth century of depicting the sights of the city in prints which culminates in the following century in Piranesi's peerless etchings of Rome. What sets van Wittel apart from earlier printmakers of Roman urban buildings and spaces was the practice he soon began of translating his views into paint. The market for his views of the Eternal City was good. During a period of more than thirty years he produced several versions of the most important sights. His innovative sun-drenched vedute done in light tonalities had little influence in his native land but they had an enduring effect in Italy where they set examples for leading eighteenth-century Italian veduta painters including Pannini in Rome and Guardi and Canaletto in Venice.