This work dates from the 1770s, Fabris's most productive and successful decade. Scenes such as this were among the artist’s favourite subjects, in which he showcased his ability to combine the elegant topographical traditions of landscape painting with an incisive and accurate depiction of the costumes and customs of everyday life in Naples. The scene shows peasants dancing and playing music to celebrate a wedding on the beach at Marchiaro (Posillipo), with the smouldering – and ever-present – Vesuvius in the distance. An air of festivity pervades the scene, with the newly married couple dancing in the foreground, while musicians and guests watch. We can almost hear the barking of the dog in the foreground or the toasting of the two peasants in the centre of the scene, gathered around a wooden table partly covered by a red tablecloth. The composition is bathed in an enveloping, golden, Mediterranean light which comes from the left-hand side of the painting.
By combining the picturesque with a topographical fidelity to the landscape and life of eighteenth-century Naples Fabris had found an attractive formula which particularly appealed to foreign patrons. Despite his importance to the school of landscape painting in Naples in the second half of the eighteenth century, little is known of the early life or training of Pietro Fabris. He liked to be known as the ‘English painter’, an epithet that he sometimes added to his paintings, and he may have been born in England to an Italian stage set designer called Jacopo Fabris. This epithet may also refer to his considerable popularity with British Grand Tour collectors. Among them, even Sir William Hamilton described him as ‘English’ in his introduction to the Campi Phlegraei (1776), which was entirely illustrated by Fabris.
Signed and dated, Fabris 1777.
Pietro Fabris Peasants Merry making on the Shore at Posillipo 1777 © Compton VerneyOil on canvas