Sunday, February 8, 2009

Capriccio in Art

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.


Unknown said...

Architectural milkshake....great line Jim!

Steve said...

My wife and I recently had the pleasure of viewing Cole's Architect's Dream at the Toledo Museum of Art. Cole painted this capriccio on commision for an architect famous for his Greek and Gothic Revival buildings, Ithiel Town. Turns out Cole's dream was Town's nightmare. Town hated the painting and refused to pay for it. Cole was stunned -- an object lesson in understanding the tastes of those who commission your work.

Anonymous said...

Yes! I was also going to mention that the work was rejected after it was painted.Town felt that it didn't reflect natural elements enough. Funny how our tastes are so fickle.

Mark Heng said...

Wow, another word I never knew! James, where do you get all these great terms? Contre Jour is one that keeps popping up in my mind since I read it on your BLOG...

James Gurney said...

Thank you, Steve and Jean for the insights into Architect's Dream.

Mark, I love jargon, and the art business is full of it. I love the your blog and website where you show all the caricatures you do at weddings, alongside their subjects.

José Carrilho (Go Detail) said...


I really like this style.
One of my favourite artists from this art genre is Hubert Robert.

Kind regards,


mandy said...

sorry im looking for the origins of that first painting by Giovanni Paolo Panini. I am wondering if you will be able to tell me? thanks!

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