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Gaspar van Wittel, The Colosseum Seen from the Southeast (c. 1700)

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at The Colosseum Seen from the Southeast (c. 1700) by Gaspar van Wittel.

About the Work

Title : The Colosseum Seen from the Southeast 
Artist : Gaspar van Wittel
Year : c. 1700
Medium : Oil on canvas
Dimensions : 72 x 125 cm (28 3/8 x 49 3/16 in.)
Location : Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Colosseum

In van Wittel’s work, the artist depicts the Roman Colosseum as a once glorious monument that is the country’s heritage. Shown from the Southeast, the amphitheater that was once used for gladiatorial shows stands against a majestic blue sky. Glimpses of the city are seen in the background. In the foreground, Romans go about their daily chores to a earn a living. A few people sit in rest, while others pass by. Cattle graze the patches of grass around the monument.

Van Wittel evokes a strong sense of nostalgia through his representation of the Colosseum. A wonder of the New World, the monument is rendered partially lifeless as it is not longer used for the purpose it was built. Once the home of many a hero, the building is now merely a popular tourist attraction or ceremonial space.

Other Details

Gaspar van Wittel’s The Colosseum Seen from the Southeast  is housed in the Harvard Art Museums in Room 2240, European and American Art, 17th–19th century. It is part of the museum’s collection of the The Arts in the Eighteenth–Century Atlantic World.


To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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