11365 A POSSIBLY UNIQUE FISH SCALE COLLAGE VIEW OF PONTE SANTA TRINITÀ, FLORENCE, AFTER A WATERCOLOR BY JAMES DUFFIELD HARDING (1797-1863) Continental. Circa 1830. Measurements: Sight size: Height: 13 1/2″ (34.3 cm) Width: 17 3/4″ (45.1 cm). Framed: Height: 18″ (45.7 cm) Width: 22 1/4″ (56.5 cm).
Of fish scales, bone and skin, and moss on paper. In original frame.
This unusual picture centers on the Ponte Santa Trinità, a bridge that spans the Arno River in Florence, and is executed using delicately arranged and inlaid fish scales, skin and bones, and even what appears to be fish eggs, along with with grass and moss, resulting in a remarkable iridescent landscape.
More than one type of fish’s scales are used to create a contrast between the Arno and the riverside path, while the miniscule bones are used to form the outlines of buildings, windows, and baroque architectural ornament. The Arno was freed for fishing by Grand Duke Leopold I in 1780 and it may be that the scene was crafted using local species of fish.
The scene is executed after a watercolor by the English landscape painter and lithographer James Duffield Harding (1798-1863) (figure 1). Harding “took his view from the top of a flight of steps leading down to the river, and describes masons working on a block of stone in the foreground.”1 Other figures appear sitting or leaning on the wall, and promenading on the left (south) bank of the river. Harding’s image was engraved by James Redaway and included The Tourist in Italy by Thomas Roscoe (1832).
In the present work, fewer figures are included but those depicted represent a gondolier sitting on the wall beside an jug, a stonemason moving a large slab, a woman strolling in the foreground and a man beside a building farther back.
Despite exhaustive research, no other nineteenth century image employing a collage of fish skins has been located. It has been suggested that a craftsman with experience in fish taxidermy may have had the requisite skills to render an image in this most unusual, if not unique, assemblage of materials.
1. Patterson, John R. The Enlightened Despotism of the 18th Century in Europe: the Archduke Leopold I in Tuscany. 1902. 45.