This remarkable and large canvas depicting the bay of Naples was painted when Vanvitelli was at the peak of his career. The Riviera di Chiaia was opened in 1697 by Luis Francisco de la Cerda y Aragón, Duke of Medinaceli and originally ran immediately alongside the shore of the Gulf of Naples in the quartiere of Chiaia. Lined with elegant homes, beautiful churches and fountains, the Riviera would have provided an ideal setting for tourists to enjoy a stroll and take in views of the bay.
For this composition the artist has chosen a viewpoint shortly after the church of San Leonardo, where the Riviera di Chiaia diverges from the Strada di Pozzuoli.1 In the foreground is an elaborate Baroque fountain, decorated with sculptures and a scrolled plaque on its pediment bears an inscription Carolus II Dei Gratia Rex. The fountain was one of a number that once punctuated the road along the waterfront from Castel dell’Ovo to Posillipo, built in the 1690s on the instruction of Don Luis de la Cerda.2 Beyond the fountain, to the right, is an old tower, perhaps the Torretta di Chiaia or the Torretta di Piedigrotta, once intended as a fortification against invasion by the Turks.3 The old defenses had been built in 1564, though by the time of this painting, the construction had been converted into a “folly” dwelling. Beyond the Torretta, the domed roof and tall bell tower of the church of Santa Maria di Piedigrotta are visible further down the strada di Pozzuoli. In the distance, across the bay, is the quartiere of Mergellina, its shore lined with fishermen’s cottages and above it rises Posillipo on the crest of the hill.
The composition is known in seven versions which date between 1710 and 1722, each varying slightly in its chosen viewpoint and in the grouping of figures and carriages.4 Surprisingly, no preparatory drawing is extant. The earliest version, in a private collection, is signed and dated: Gas. Van Witel 1710 and like the present painting shows the fountain in its entirety. The present version, however, is depicted from very slightly further south. This minor shift allows a view of the façade of the building at right which perhaps depicts the palazzo built by Bartolomeo d’Aquino in 1640. The palazzo was known for its opulent interiors and its inclusions permitted the artist to incorporate a charming vignette in the lower left corner: an elegant company stepping from a gilded carriage toward the palazzo’s marble columned entrance while their arrival is overseen by a gentleman peering from the balcony above.
1. G. Briganti, under Literature, p. 270.
2. Ibid., p. 270-271.
3. Ibid., p. 270.
4. Ibid., p. 271-272, cat. nos. 375-379, reproduced.
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