In the late seventeenth century, the topographical view painting or veduta emerged as a new genre of painting. The Dutch painter Gaspar van Wittel was born in Amersfoort but spent almost all his life in Italy, working mainly in Rome, where he was known by the Italianised name of Gaspare Vanvitelli. His accurate and painterly view paintings predated and influenced those of the more famous Venetian view painter Canaletto (1697-1768). This is a unique horizontal view of the Bay of Naples: unlike other topographical views by Gaspar van Wittel, it is known only in this single version, which was expressly painted for his Spanish patron, the Viceroy of Naples, Luis de la Cerda, Duke of Medinaceli (1660-1711).
Van Wittel’s vedute were very popular with visitors to Naples, probably because they combined accurate topography with a direct appeal to the senses. `This work is bathed in the mellow light of a typical Neapolitan afternoon, creating a feeling of heat and luminosity. The surface of the sea reflects the clear blue sky, with only a few white clouds floating above. At the left we see a small boat, covered by an awning to protect its occupants from the sun, arriving at the shore below the Palazzo Donn’Anna. A gentleman is disembarking, helped by a valet. Nearby, men are fishing from the rocks and smoking, while a group are enjoying plates of spaghetti, eaten with their fingers. On the upper terrace of Palazzo Donn’Anna, aristocratic figures are enjoying the breath-taking panorama and a more refined meal, accompanied by the music of a mandolin. In the sea Gaspar van Wittel has painted a series of large and impressive royal vessels, including a gondola, which was not typical of Naples and may have been brought from Venice or known through drawings made in Venice.
The Palazzo Donn’Anna was commissioned from Cosimo Fanzago by the Viceroy Ramiro Guzman, who dedicated it to his wife, Donna Anna Carafa, but it was in fact never inhabited. Damaged by the earthquake in 1688, it soon assumed the aspect of a noble ruin and appears in numerous views of Posillipo, from Van Wittel onwards. From the Palazzo Donn’Anna it is possible to recognise – from left to right – various buildings along the coast of Posillipo: from the house of the duke of Vietri, to the casino of prince Roccella and the mansion of the dukes of Cantalupo. The main motivation for this veduta could possibly be the representation of this latter building; according to a contemporary source, Luis de la Cerda, the patron of this painting, restored and embellished Cantalupo’s palace with new buildings and paintings. In the upper-left background are the profiles of the Castel Sant’Elmo and the Carthusian monastery of San Martino. Below is the Riviera di Chiaia, whose new panoramic layout was paved and transformed into a promenade by the duke of Medinaceli himself only a few years before, in 1697. To the right are the domes of Santa Maria a Cappella Nuova, Santa Caterina a Chiaia, and Santa Maria degli Angeli a Pizzofalcone, which towers in height over the others. Further ahead is the hill of Pizzofalcone with the church of the Crocelle. Lastly, projecting out to sea is Castel dell’Ovo and, at the far right, Vesuvius with its usual plume of smoke rising into the air.
Gaspar van Wittel (known as Gaspare Vanvitelli) Posillipo with the Palazzo Donn’Anna About 1700-1702 © Compton Verney