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Works (?) John Henderson after Giovanni Battista Piranesi

The Bridge of Augustus at Rimini

1797 - 1798

Primary Image: TG0892: (?) John Henderson (1764–1843), after Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78), The Bridge of Augustus at Rimini, 1797–98, watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper, 15.3 × 50.3 cm, 6 × 19 ¾ in. British Museum, London (1878,1228.15).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Artist's source: Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78), etching, 'Ponte di Rimino Fabricato da Augusto e da Tiberio Imperatori' (The Bridge at Rimini Built by the Emperors Augustus and Tiberius) for Alcune Vedute di Archi Trionfali ed Altri Monumenti (Some Views of Triumphal Arches and Other Monuments), part 2, pl.16, 1748, 12.5 × 26.5 cm, 4 ⅞ × 10 ⅜ in. British Museum, London (1926,0617.14.18).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

(?) John Henderson (1764-1843) after Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)
  • The Bridge of Augustus at Rimini
1797 - 1798
Medium and Support
Watercolour and pen and ink on laid paper
15.3 × 50.3 cm, 6 × 19 ¾ in
Object Type
Work from a Known Source: Foreign Master
Subject Terms
Italian View: Ancient Ruins

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


John Henderson (1764–1843); then by descent to John Henderson II (1797–1878) (lent to London, 1875); bequeathed to the Museum, 1878

Exhibition History

London, 1875, no.124 as ’An Old Bridge, Italy ... After Piranesi’


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.95 as 'A Bridge in Italy'; Davies, 1924, pl.73; British Museum, Collection as by Thomas Girtin (Accessed 14/09/2022)

About this Work

This view of the Roman bridge over the river Marecchia at Rimini at first sight appears to have been copied by Girtin from an etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78) that was published in 1748 as part of Antichità Romane de’ Tempi della Repubblica, e de’ primi Imperatori (Roman Antiquity of the Time of the Republic and the First Emperors) (see the source image above). However, unlike the three watercolours that Girtin painted from subjects depicted in the Antichità Romane, closer inspection shows that although it reproduces the bridge from the same angle and includes some of the same figures and boats, the artist has significantly departed from Piranesi’s composition, adding an extra arch to the five that span the river at this point, as well as extending the composition to the left to include a range of modern buildings. Girtin did make some alterations in his version of The Temple of Augustus at Pula (TG0886), but the addition of an extra arch here does not benefit the composition, and nor does the introduction of the stretch of modern riverside buildings. Indeed, given that Girtin did not visit Italy, it is hard to see by what means he could have updated Piranesi’s composition in a frankly bizarre and singularly unconvincing manner.

The Bridge of Augustus at Rimini

Even without these anomalies, the attribution of the work to Girtin would have been questionable. Thus, although there are passages that suggest that the artist had studied Girtin’s watercolours carefully, the drawing and perspective are weak throughout, and the heavy outlines and the bland colouring suggest the work of an amateur artist who had not been able to sketch the modern setting of the ancient bridge at first hand. Not surprisingly, Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak did not include it in their catalogue (Girtin and Loshak, 1954), and a note in the Girtin Archive (14) suggests that Thomas Girtin thought that it was executed by John Henderson (1764–1843) . Given that the watercolour came from the collection of Girtin’s early patron, having been bequeathed by his son to the British Museum, this does indeed seem the likeliest explanation for its weaknesses and anomalies. These are made even more evident by comparing the watercolour with a view of the bridge made by John ‘Warwick’ Smith (1749–1831) in 1795 following his trip to Italy in the 1780s (see figure 1). The buildings to the left of Henderson’s watercolour bear no resemblance to Smith’s on-the-spot record, and it is clear that they were either invented or copied from another source – possibly a Venetian scene, such is their similarity to the prints after the work of Canaletto that the patron had in his collection and that Girtin himself copied (such as TG0899).

1797 - 1798

The Temple of Augustus at Pula in Istria


1797 - 1798

Venice: The Grand Canal, Looking East from the Palazzo Flangini to San Marcuola


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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