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Carlo Bonavia Active from 1740

A Storm off a Rocky Coast



Carlo Bonavia Active from 1740


A Storm off a Rocky Coast




Oil on canvas


124 x 201 cm (unframed); 163 x 235 cm (framed)






On Display

This painting depicts a dramatic shipwreck, with figures in the foreground struggling to save possessions and lives. The address on the trunk pulled ashore in the centre foreground bears the name of the original destination: Naples. Some members of the crew swim towards the shore, desperately grasping the rocks, while others pull survivors from the sea, or attempt to revive them on land. The scene is dominated by a stormy sky and a raging sea where, on the left, a ship with an unidentifiable flag is aground, another is out of control and destined to a similar fate, and a smaller boat on the right tries to find a narrow harbour.

Bonavia controls the lighting to give energy to the sea in the foreground and to increase the depth of the scene, by illuminating the promontory further along the coast. The range of colour moves from warmer pigments on the left with touches of red and earth tones, to colder green and grey on the right. This chromatic contrast accentuates the drama, alleviated only by some golden sunlight breaking through the clouds in the centre.

Although this is almost certainly not an exact topographical view of Naples, it recalls some nearby rocky coasts, and is among the most dramatic examples of the Neapolitan vedute tradition. Often commissioned by Grand Tourists, these views were popularized by the Neapolitan Salvator Rosa (1615–1673) in the seventeenth century and developed in the following century by artists such as Pietro Fabris (active 1740–1792) and Gabriele Ricciardelli (c.1690–c.1777). Bonavia may have been of Roman origin, but his career was spent entirely in Naples, where he enjoyed considerable success among foreign visitors as well as local collectors. Bonavia was influenced by the French view painter Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714–1789), who he may have met in Naples in the 1740s. He stood apart from his contemporaries in his ability to combine the fantastical and imaginative style of Vernet with elements of the Neapolitan landscape.

It is not known whether this painting was made in response to a specific commission, or whether Bonavia painted it first and found a collector later. It is a relatively large canvas, and it is therefore likely that it was commissioned for a particular space in a palazzo by a collector who wanted to take back home memories of the Kingdom of Naples.
This picture was one of a set of three from Peckforton Castle, Cheshire, all of identical dimensions, sold in London in 1953. The other two canvases, A Rocky Coastal Scene with Shipping and Numerous Figures on the Right, signed and dated 1756, and A Hilly River Scene with a Grotto and Figures, signed and dated 1957, were bought by Agnew’s, and are now in a private collection.

Signed and dated: Bonavia PA.


  • G. Constable, Carlo Bonavia, The Art Quarterly, XXII, 1959, p. 19.
  • Nicola Spinosa, Pittura napoletana del Settecento dal Barocco al Rococò, Electa Napoli, Napoli 1986, p. 53.
  • Nicola Spinosa, Pittura Napoletana del Settecento, Vol. 2, Napoli 1987, p. 157, no. 276.
  • Muzii, in In the shadow of Vesuvius. Views of Naples from Baroque to Romanticism 1631-1830, exhibition catalogue, Electa Napoli, Napoli 1990, p. 115.
  • Luigi Salerno, I Pittori di Vedute in Italia 1580-1830, Ugo Bozzi Editore, Roma 1991, p. 323, no. 9.
  • Compton Verney Handbook, Susan Jenkins (ed.), 2004, pp. 50-51.

Exhibitions History:

  • Barber Institute of Fine Art (15 October 2003–30 January 2004), Birmingham.
  • All’ombra del Vesuvio. Napoli nella veduta europea dal Quattrocento all’Ottocento, (12 May–29 July 1990), Castel Sant’Elmo, Napoli.

Last updated: Sensing Naples, 2023

Carlo Bonavia A Storm off a Rocky Coast 1757 © Compton Verney