Hubert Robert, known as "Robert of the Ruins," spent eleven years as a student in Rome from 1754 until 1765. During his sojourn he studied at the French Academy, but dedicated most of his energy to sketching the Eternal City and the Roman campagna. He reworked the ideas recorded in his sketchbooks, in drawings, and paintings throughout his career.
In The Old Bridge, Robert used an ancient monument as the basis for his modern composition. The Ponte Salario, which was built in the sixth century, is shown from below. The arch of the bridge, illuminated by a soft pink glow, separates foreground from background space. Through the bridge we see the Roman countryside in the distance. The crumbling pier on the far left has been converted into a contemporary barn.
Robert has combined the grandeur of ancient Rome with the anecdotal. For example, the young man on the right bank admires the washerwoman opposite, while the old woman on the pier entices her cat to return. Robert, by linking present and past under the warm light of the Italian sun, reminds us that bridges are emblems of the passage of time, thus evoking a nostalgia for the glory of ancient Rome.
Jean Frédéric Perregaux [1744-1808], Paris and Viry-Châtillon; by inheritance to his daughter, the maréchale duchesse de Raguse [1779-1855, née Anne Marie Hortense Perregaux], Paris and Viry-Châtillon; (her estate sale, Hôtel des Commissaires-Priseurs, Paris, 14-15 December 1857, no. 42); Madame Louis Stern, Paris, by 1911; (sale, Galerie George Petit, Paris, 22 April 1929, no. 19); (Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York); sold 23 December 1946 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1952 to NGA.
- Eighteenth-Century French Art, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1931, no. 31.
- Exhibition of French Painting from the Fifteenth Century to the Present Day, The California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 1934, no. 53, repro.
- Paintings and Drawings by Hubert Robert, Wildenstein & Co., New York, 1935, no. 32.
- The Splendor of Ruins in French Landscape Painting 1630-1800, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2005, no. 30, repro.
- Nolhac, Pierre de. Hubert Robert. Paris, 1910: 127.
- Guiffrey, Jean. "La Collection de Mme Louis Stern." Les Arts (November 1911): 22, repro.
- Gillet, Louis. "Hubert Robert, peintre des ruines." L'Illustration (2 December 1922): unpaginated, color repro.
- "Les Ventes." Le Bulletin de l'Art Ancien et Moderne, no. 759 (June 1929): 257, 259, repro.
- "The Art Market." Parnassus III, no. II (February 1931): repro. 27.
- "En dernière heure, d'Hubert Robert à Seurat." Le Bulletin de l'Art Ancien et Moderne, no. 802 (January 1934): repro. 24.
- "40 Paintings by Hubert-Robert in Loan Show." Art Digest (1 April 1935): 15, repro.
- Morsell, Mary. "Notable Canvases By Hubert Robert At Wildenstein's." The Art News (23 March 1935): 1, 4, repro.
- Wildenstein and Company. French XVIII Century Paintings. New York, 1948: 4.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1945-1951. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1951: 230, no. 103, repro.
- Frankfurter, Alfred M. "Interpreting Masterpieces: Twenty-four Paintings from the Kress Collection." Art News Annual 16 (1952): 118,127, repro. 121.
- Walker, John. "Your National Gallery of Art After 10 Years." National Geographic Magazine 101 no. 1 (January 1952): 74, 81, repro.
- Einstein, Lewis. "Looking at French Eighteenth-Century Pictures in Washington." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6th ser., 67, no. 1048-1049 (May-June 1956): 236, fig. 21.
- Cooke, Hereward Lester. French Paintings of the 16th-18th Centuries in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1959 (Booklet Number Four in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 40, color repro.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 371, repro.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, New York, 1962: 114, color repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 318, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 115.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:324, color repro.
- Burda, Hubert. Die Ruine in den Bildern Hubert Roberts. Munich, 1967: 45-46, fig. 32.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 102, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 306, repro.
- Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 338-339, fig. 305.
- Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 88, pl. 76.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 341, no. 462, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 353, repro.
- Hubert Robert 1733-1808: und die Brücken von Paris. Exh. cat. Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, 1991-1992: 94, under no. 51, repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 174, repro.
- The Arts of France from François Ier to Napoléon Ier. A Centennial Celebration of Wildenstein's Presence in New York. Exh. cat. Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York, 2005: 59, fig. 57, 73 (not in the exhibition).
- Conisbee, Philip, et al. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2009: no. 86, 404-409, color repro.