Volterra in Art: Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was a French painter of the middle of XIX century. He is one of the artists who have paved the way for the impressionism, with his plain-air landscape oil sketches.

During his trip to Italy in 1834, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot must have spent some time in Volterra. There are four paintings of the city from that visit. The other two paintings on this page are dated 1838, and are apparently studio landscapes, based on the sketches from the trip.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot - Volterra, the Citadel - WGA5283

Volterra, the Citadel 1834, (Louvre Museum, Paris)

This is the view of the Fortezza Medicea (Medici Fortress) in Volterra, located on the east side of the city.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot Volterra

Volterra, 1834 (Louvre Museum, Paris)

This view is showing the north side of the city, with the very prominent defensive wall descending towards Porta Docciola. In the middle of the painting a building with the bell tower is the church of San Michele. Considering the orientation of the city, and the shadows on the buildings, this painting must have been made during the early morning hours.

Corot volterr church bell tower 1834

Volterra – Church and Bell Tower, 1834

This is my favorite painting of Volterra by Corot. A beautiful composition is matched by subtle strokes of the brush. Beyond the horizon of this painting one can feel the first tide of impressionism.


Road from Volterra 1834

The towers of the city clearly visible in the distance – the bell tower of the cathedral, and the tower of the Palazzo dei Priori. Between them the dome of the baptistery.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot - Vue près de Volterra (1838)

Vue près de Volterra, 1838 (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)

This painting, and the next, have Volterra in the title, but there are no elements which would in any way identify the city. The landscape is heavily romanticized, not resembling Tuscany around Volterra. Considering the date (1838) it must be one of the studio landscapes painted by Corot after his return from Italy.

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot - Vista de Volterra

Vista de Volterra, 1838 (Timken Museum of Art in Sand Diego, California)

Just like the previous painting, Volterra is present in the name, but not in the image. The building fragments visible are impossible to identify with any part of the city existing today. Quite notable is the presence of a rider on a white horse in both paintings.

I have found this book recently: “Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical-Landscape Tradition” by Peter Galassi, making plans to read it when I have more time, of course.
There is a website dedicated completely to Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot:
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot – The complete works