Born in Hamburg, the painter and printmaker Johann Hermann Carmiencke trained in Dresden under the Norwegian landscape painter Johann Christian Dahl. Subsequently, the artist embarked on a journey that would take him first to Sweden, then Germany, and finally Italy, between 1845 and ’46, to study and draw landscapes. He was to pursue a successful career in Denmark, where he worked as King Christian VIII’s court painter from 1846 to 51, the year when war in Northern Europe obliged him to emigrate to America.
In Brooklyn, where he settled, he became one of the founders of the Brooklyn Academy. Here his reputation was confirmed as that of a painter from the Hudson River School, an American art movement developed in the mid-19th century by a group of Romantic-influenced landscape painters. The Hudson River School’s landscapes are characterized by a realistic, detailed, and sometimes idealized portrait of nature, often contrasting the remaining uninhabited areas with peaceful scenes of farming. Carmiencke stands out from most members of that school in that his paintings tend to be darker and more rustic.
In the beautiful painting presented here, View of Villa Malta with St. Peter’s Basilica in the Background the light of Rome illuminates the façade of Villa Malta while the sun’s rays filter through the branches of the pergola which serves as an important vanishing point for the entire composition. At the end of this shady allée can be glimpsed the iconic dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Much of the surface of the small canvas is occupied by the blue of the sunny sky, the pine tree on the left framing the painting, while on the right the refined construction of the building in perspective balances the composition. This light, and this romantic glimpse must have captured the imagination of the German artist who created a refined painting on canvas of it.
With regard to the place portrayed, this was no random choice either. From the end of the eighteenth century, this villa became a bedrock for the German artistic community in Rome, namely the German Artistic Circle. The garden offered a sensational view over Rome and was an oasis of calm and inspiration favoured by many artists.
In the years when Carmiencke arrived in Italy, the owner of Villa Malta was Ludwig I, King of Bavaria, the only German royal to own a landed property in Rome. “Oh,Garden of Malta, how dear you are to me, my beloved asylum, where a king finally finds the man he had missed in his homeland.” The King did nothing to change the character of the villa, and continued to allow artists to frequent it. It must have been in this milieu that the German-born artist found the inspiration for this painting. After the King’s departure in 1868, the lively life of Villa Malta was to die out taking the artistic circle with it.