In the shade of a coastal grotto various groups of people engage in everyday activities. In the left foreground a local man acts as a tour guide to two women who enter the scene. He gestures towards the sights before them, while a second man pours them some wine. In the centre, a richly dressed woman is being entertained by two local men who lay tarot cards on the ground – perhaps they are telling her fortune? Behind them, locals are gathered around a picnic, talking, sharing wine, and feeding their children, while at the far right a small band of musicians play instruments including a mandolin, a fiddle and a large tambourine. There is a sense of everyday life unfolding, with some figures conversing, such as the boatman and the barefooted figure smoking a pipe, others watching, and two small children begging for money. We know that we are in Naples - glimpsed through the mouth of the grotto is the unmistakable view of the Bay of Naples with Castel dell’Ovo and the smoking Vesuvius in the distance.
Pietro Fabris produced many such scenes of Neapolitan peasant life early in his career. In these he paid great attention to details, especially in women’s clothing, which signalled the differences between the social classes. Fabris’s ability to capture the beauty of Naples and its people using warm colours and lively storytelling helped him achieve great success among Grand Tourists and foreign patrons. This painting is one of three known versions of the same scene by Fabris. One dates to 1766 and is in the Royal Collection, while a third version, signed and dated 1756, was with the Trafalgar Galleries in 1985.
Pietro Fabris Naples from the West, with Peasants Gaming About 1765 © Compton VerneyPhoto by Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.