The Ponte Molle, also known as the Milvian Bridge, spans the Tiber River just north of Rome. Forming part of the Via Flaminia, an ancient Roman road that linked Rome to Florence, the Ponte Molle was the principal access to Rome from the north. The bridge was also the site of Emperor Constantine’s decisive battle against Maxentius in A.D. 312, after which the emperor converted to Christianity. For Asselijn, however, this historic event was of less significance than the bridge’s picturesque character and the way the charming structure evoked the quiet beauty of the Roman countryside, effects emphasized by the rhythmic shadows on its arches and the golden light across the sky. Shepherds and travelers along the river’s bank enliven the lower reaches of the composition, and a well-dressed gentleman at right gestures to a boatman whose small cargo vessel passes through. The vivid accents of light falling on these figures emphasizes their subtle but important presence in the scene.
Asselijn received his artistic training in Amsterdam, after which he travelled to Rome to live with a group of Dutch and Flemish artists called the Bentvueghels (Dutch for "Birds of a Feather"). These artists focused their attention on scenes of everyday life, as well as views of the Roman countryside. Asselijn fused these two pictorial realms by depicting ordinary people near Roman buildings, bridges, and ancient ruins.
Asselijn left Rome in the early 1640s and eventually settled in Amsterdam, where he found a thriving demand for his evocative Italianate scenes such as this one. In these works, Asselijn freely adapted the architectural and topographical character of the setting to enhance the pictorial and atmospheric effects he sought to achieve. Here he has given the bridge a round tower at its northern end instead of the large, pierlike structure that actually stood there.
lower right, in monogram: JA
(David Ietswaart, Amsterdam); Willem Lormier [1682-1758], The Hague; (his estate sale, A. Franken, The Hague, 4 July 1763, no. 64); De Heer Yves. Gottfried Winkler [1731-1795], Leipzig, by 1768. (anonymous sale, Frederik Müller et Cie at the Hotel de Brakke Grond, Amsterdam, 23 February 1904, no. 1); Joanna Maria Tydeman-VerLoren van Themaat [1861-1954], Ginneken; by descent in the Tydeman family; purchased 7 November 2012 through (Rachel Kaminsky Fine Art, New York) by NGA.
- Noord-Brabantsch Kunstbezit, Stedelijk van Abbe-Museum, Eindhoven, 1938, no. 37.
- Oude kunst in Brabants bezit: jubileum tentoonstelling, 1898-1948, Paleis-Raadhuis, Tilburg, 1948, no. 3, as Brug over de Tiber.
- Kreuchauf, Franz Wilhelm. Historische Erklaerungen der Gemaelde welche Herr Gottfried Winkler in Leipzig gesammelt. Leipzig, 1768: 101-102, no. 255.
- Steland, Anne Charlotte. Jan Asselijn nach 1610 bis 1652. Amstersdam, 1971: 71 fig. 46, 154 no. 183.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "Jan Asselijn, The Tiber River and te Ponte Molle." National Gallery of Art Bulletin 48 (Spring 2013): 22-23, repro.