Capriccio (art)

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In painting, a capriccio (Italian pronunciation: [kaˈprittʃo], plural: capricci [kaˈprittʃi]; in older English works often anglicized as "caprice") means an architectural fantasy, placing together buildings, archaeological ruins and other architectural elements in fictional and often fantastical combinations, and may include staffage (figures). It falls under the more general term of landscape painting. The term is also used for other artworks with an element of fantasy.


The predecessor of this type of decorative architectural paintings can be found in 16th-century Italian painting, and in particular in the architectural settings that were painted as the framework of large-scale frescoes and ceiling decorations known as 'quadratture'. These architectural elements gained prominence in 17th century painting to become stand-alone subjects of easel paintings.[1]

Early practitioners of the genre who made the genre popular in mid-17th century Rome included Alessandro Salucci and Viviano Codazzi. The artists represent two different approaches to the genre: Codazzi's capricci where more realistic than those of Salucci who showed more creativity and liberty in his approach by rearranging Roman monuments to fit his compositional objectives.[2] The 'quadratture' frescoes of Agostino Tassi and the urban views of Claude Lorrain and Herman van Swanevelt, which he saw in Rome, may have stimulated Viviano Codazzi to start painting capricci.[3]

This genre was perfected[citation needed] by Marco Ricci (1676-1730) but its best-known proponent was the artist Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1691-1765). This style was extended in the 1740s by Canaletto in his etched vedute ideali, and works by Piranesi and his imitators.

Later examples include Charles Robert Cockerell's A Tribute to Sir Christopher Wren and A Professor's Dream, and Joseph Gandy's 1818 Public and Private Buildings Executed by Sir John Soane. The artist Carl Laubin has painted a number of modern capriccios in homage to these works.[4]

File:Marco Ricci - A Classical Landscape with Ruins.jpg
Classical landscape with ruins, c. 1725, by Marco Ricci

The term can be used more broadly for other works with a strong element of fantasy. The Capricci, an influential series of etchings by Gianbattista Tiepolo (1730s?, published in 1743), reduced the architectural elements to chunks of classical statuary and ruins, among which small groups made up of a cast of exotic and elegant figures of soldiers, philosophers and beautiful young people go about their enigmatic business. No individual titles help to explain these works; mood and style are everything. A later series was called Scherzi di fantasia – "Fantastic Sketches". His son Domenico Tiepolo was among those who imitated these prints, often using the term in titles.

Goya's series of eighty prints Los Caprichos, and the last group of prints in his series The Disasters of War, which he called "caprichos enfáticos" ("emphatic caprices") are far from the spirit of light-hearted fantasy the term usually suggests. They take Tiepolo's format of a group of figures, now drawn from contemporary Spanish life, and are a series of savage satires and comments on its absurdity, only partly explicated by short titles.

External links

Media related to Capriccios at Wikimedia Commons