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Marco Ricci (Belluno 1676-Venice 1730)

A Wood with Figures Alarmed by a Bear c.1720-30

Gouache on alum-tawed skin | 30.8 x 44.4 cm (sight) | RCIN 406908

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  • Marco Ricci produced a large number of paintings of landscape subjects executed in the unusual technique of tempera or gouache on leather, possibly kidskin (the paint was made by binding pigments with egg yolk or gum arabic respectively). Typically measuring about 31 × 45 cm, the smooth, pale surface of the skin on the stretcher gives a clarity and luminosity to the bright paint applied to it. Joseph Smith, who knew Marco Ricci well, collected 33 of Ricci's tempera paintings, all but one now in the Royal Collection. All the works are in their original Venetian frames (some have their eighteenth-century glazing intact) and they would have hung in groups, probably on the walls of Smith's residence at Mogliano.

    Although most of Marco's temperas are not dated, they can be placed in the 1720s, his last and most productive decade. Many are pastoral scenes – mountain landscapes, villages and farms – set in the richly fertile and dramatic landscape surrounding Marco's home town of Belluno in the Dolomites. Others illustrate the beauty and power of nature, with dramatic storms, torrents of water in rugged mountains or the surprise appearance of a bear or a snake. These were all subjects that Marco had painted throughout his life, reusing the compositions of existing drawings and oil subjects in the tempera medium. In contrast to his oil paintings, in the temperas the sky is often an optimistic blue, the light refined and subtle.

    The tempera paintings demonstrate the broad range of influences that Marco absorbed. In his early years he came into contact with Alessandro Magnasco and Francesco Peruzzini of Ancona (1668–1706), both of whom worked closely with Sebastiano, and may have met the Dutch artist Pieter Mulier, called 'il Cavalier Tempesta' (c.1637–1701). In his temperas of tempestuous weather conditions and other moments of high drama, such as figures fleeing from a bear (as in this painting), encountering bandits, or monks and hermits praying, Marco was influenced by Salvator Rosa's wild and mountainous landscapes and Magnasco's dark and dramatic style.

    Text adapted from Canaletto & the Art of Venice, 2017.

    Acquired from the artist (or after his death) by Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice; acquired from Smith by George III in 1762 (Italian List nos 116-48); recorded in the Queen's Dressing Room at Kew in 1805 and 1828

  • Medium and techniques

    Gouache on alum-tawed skin


    30.8 x 44.4 cm (sight)

    32.1 x 45.7 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external)

    42.65 x 56.4 x 3.9 cm (frame, external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    A Wood with Peasants Alarmed by a Bear