In painting, a capriccio is an architectural fantasy that combines various buildings, ruins, or landscape elements into an extravagant juxtaposition.
The word is Italian. It means a caprice, a whim, a playful gesture. One of the masters of capriccios was Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1691-1765).
Capriccios were often decorative exercises to go over a door in a palace to lend a spirit of worldliness and erudition. Canaletto did his share of them. Many of the masters of the genre were also theatrical set painters.
Thomas Cole (1801-1848) tried his hand at a few capriccios, like The Course of Empire: Consummation (1834-36), and this one, The Architect’s Dream (1840). He throws together Egyptian, Roman, and Gothic styles into his architectural milkshake. But these exercises never really caught on in America, where at the time people were looking west toward the wilderness rather than east toward Europe.