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Walter Liedtke and Daniela Coia

Paintings in which a building or a group of buildings or ruins constitutes either the main subject of the composition or plays an important role in it. The term is modern and owes much of its currency to Jantzen’s fundamental survey (1910) of 16th- and 17th-century Netherlandish architectural paintings (see bibliography under §2 below). Works most commonly described as architectural paintings include views of church interiors, both real and imaginary; interior and exterior views of imaginary palaces and, occasionally, country estates; and exterior views of important buildings, such as cathedrals, town halls and country houses. In some cases, especially in earlier periods, a Townscape is referred to as an architectural picture. Indeed, there is a considerable body of Italian Renaissance paintings devoted to general urban views, in which such picturesque architectural elements as turreted walls, cupolas, bell-towers, palazzi, porticos and temples are emphasized (usually arranged according to artistic licence rather than by strict adherence to topographical accuracy). Whereas in the Middle Ages the image of the city had generally served simply as a background for religious narrative scenes, by the early Renaissance increasing interest in both ancient and contemporary architecture meant that it came to be seen as an appropriate subject for painting in its own right. It is not always possible to make a clear distinction between a townscape and an architectural picture: views such as that by ...


John Wilton-Ely

[It.: ‘caprice’]

A drawing or painted or engraved composition combining features of imaginary and/or real architecture, ruined or intact, in a picturesque setting. In its fantasy element it is the opposite of the Veduta. It reached its apogee as a popular genre during the era of the Grand Tour of Europe, which produced a heavy demand for pictorial souvenirs. Italy, in particular, offered real landscapes with Classical ruins; all that was required to elaborate and combine existing remains within a picturesque setting was a degree of poetic licence. Architectural fantasy in paintings, drawings and engravings had also a creative function, as an outlet for artists’ and architects’ imaginative expression or experiments, uninhibited by the prescriptive terms of commissions or by practical needs. The capriccio fulfilled in addition a decorative role, ranging from large-scale painted images within room decoration to miniature painted scenes on furnishings and ceramics.

Emerging as a mature art form during the early 18th-century Rococo period, the capriccio eventually declined during the early part of the next century in the face of the greater depth and imaginative range of Romantic painting as well as the demands by the academies for more ‘serious’ subject-matter. However, as a vehicle for creative licence, the architectural fantasy has never completely died out and continues to thrive on a minor level, either as a lighthearted decoration or serving the need for extreme visual experiment in architectural design....



Pieter van der Merwe

[Gk: ‘through view’]

Large-scale, illusionistic form of transparency painting, developed in 1821–2 as a public entertainment by the French scenic artist and pioneer of photography Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, in association with the architectural painter Charles-Marie Bouton (1781–1853); also the special building in which it was shown. Like the earlier Panorama, the diorama was a late step in the history of attempts to recreate the appearance of nature by means of painting and the mechanical regulation of light. Daguerre’s subsequent progression from the diorama to photography marks the vital change of medium by which this aim was eventually achieved in the form of cinematography. Daguerre’s device consisted of a fine cloth painted with landscape subjects such as mountains and evocative ruins, in a manner exploiting popular taste for the Sublime and the picturesque. The solid features of the paintings were executed in opaque colour, but transparent tints were used for the effects of atmosphere, weather, and time of day. The audience sat in near-darkness: the pictures were shown by means of daylight admitted through windows concealed both above the spectators and behind the intervening cloth and regulated by a system of shutters and coloured filtering screens. Light reflected off the front of the cloth was modified by light transmitted through it to produce effects ranging from sunshine to thick fog. Daguerre’s oil painting ...