10 October 2011

Veduta: The Bay Of Naples

“The most beautiful country in the universe inhabited by the most idiotic species.” – Marquis de Sade from Voyage d’Italie, 1775-76.`

Judged by pictures, the Bay of Naples is the Italian peninsula's most beautiful vista  The French writer Stendhal (1783-1824), who lived for awhile in Milan and served as the French consul to Trieste before the Risorgimento,  wrote that only Naples had "the true makings of a capital."  As for the other cities of the peninsula, .they were merely "glorified provincial towns like Lyon."
In the centuries between the fall of the Roman Empire and the confederation, Naples was the largest and most prosperous city on the Italian peninsula.  An independent nation, it kept its distance from the influences of the Pope and Rome Its merchants conducted a robust international trade around its large port, its governors enacted a n admirable legal system, and its citizens enjoyed a cosmopolitan culture .
All  this would not have attracted the mass influx of artists in the 18th and 19th centuries without its expansive international art market.  Pierre-Jacques Volaire of France, Joseph Wright of Derby from England, Thomas Jones of Wales, and Michael Wutky from Austria are just a few who came for the scenery - and the chance to witness and paint  an eruption by  Mt. Vesuvius.  Although most artists were not so fortunate (!) and had to rely on historical accounts, notably that of Pliny the Elder (  Natural History), who died on August 24, 79 CE, choked by ash and smoke when he sailed across the Bay of Naples to get a closer look at the eruption that buried Pompeii.  Still, it comes as a disillusionment to discover that a great and trusted painter like J.M.W. Turner fabricated his Vesuvius From Naples from the accounts of other lesser artists.

I have never been to Naples, although my father's parents were both born there.  Each moved to the United States in adolescence with their respective families.  Although Naples is one of the oldest cities in the world, when the Greeks arrived to establish a beachhead on the Italian peninsula, they gave it the name Neapolis (its Greek meaning is 'new city') and the name stuck.

Despite evidence to the contrary,  legends persist that Horace and Virgil wrote there.  Beauty does that to people, inspiring poetry and bending mere evidence.  An old Neapolitan rumor has it  that  when moonlight strikes the Possuoli Bay it is so beautiful that even the fish fall under its spell.  The usually rigorous W.H.Auden insisted that evidence proved that the German poet Goethe finally lost his virginity there, at the age of thirty-seven.

Veduta, an Italian word meaning view, has come to be associated with paintings of grand urban vistas, which include large expanses of water.  And mountains are helpful, too.  Naples has both, including one of the most mythologized and ill-tempered mountains, the volcanic Mt. Vesuvius.  The Bay of Possuoli Off the Coast of Naples by the German artists August Wilhelm Julius Ahlborn (1796-1857) is unusually charming, capturing the intense lavender blue of the water, and also curiously typical in its origins.  The veduta appears to have sprung from the paintbrushes of northern Europeans dazzled by the warmth,  light, and  sublimity of beauty and terror in close proximity. Even the starkly modern images created by the visiting Welshman, Thomas Jones (1742-1803), with their cropped views of Neapolitan vernacular buildings, suggest thrilling views just beyond our sight.

 1. August Wilhlem Julius Ahlborn - The Bay of Possuoili Off the Coast of Naples, 1832, National Gallery, Berlin.
2. Henry Brokman  - Terrace of the Hotel Cocumella, 1913, Musee du Petit-Palais, Paris.
3. Henry Brokman -  Terrace of the Hotel Cocumella with Mt. Vesuvius in the Background, Musee du Petit-Palais, Paris.
4. Thomas Jones - Rooftops in Naples, Aprile (sic) 1782, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK.

1 comment:

Timothy Cahill said...

Not for publication, Jane, but FYI: thought you would find the attached of interest, particularly the most recent three posts. The address is the blog I keep for the Center for Documentary Arts, a small nonprofit I helped found a couple years ago.:


Have enjoyed your recent posts, as always. Most especially the one of Bastien-Lapage, one of my distinct pleasures.

Best in all,
Tim Cahill