Lot 39
  • 39

Gaspar van Wittel, called Vanvitelli

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Gaspar van Wittel, called Vanvitelli
  • Florence, a view of the city from the right bank of the River Arno looking towards the Ponte alla Carraia
  • oil on canvas
  • 71 by 170 cm.; 28 by 67 in.


Commissioned by Don Luís Francisco de la Cerda Fernández de Córdova Folch de Cardona y Aragón, ninth Duke of Medinaceli (1660–1711) in around 1700;

His nephew and heir Don Nicolás Maria Fernández de Córdoba y Figueroa de la Cerda, Marquis of Priego and Duke of Feria (1682–1739), tenth Duke of Medinaceli; listed in his palace in Priego, Cordoba, by 1711;

Thence by descent until acquired by a private collector in 2011.


Listed in the inventory of goods belonging to the heir of the ninth Duke of Medinaceli, Don Nicolás Maria Fernandez de Córdoba y Figueroa de la Cerda, Marquis of Priego and Duke of Feria, Pinturas de la Cassa del Marques mi Sr. de Priego, Ms. in the Archivio Ducal de Medinaceli, Seville, 1711, no. 323: Mas una pintura de la Ciudad de Florencia grande q. falto de poner en las treinta y siete Pinturas de Gasparo Vambitel tassada en… 2.200 rs.;

V. Lleó Cañal, ‘The art collection of the ninth Duke of Medinaceli’, in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXXI, no. 1031, February 1989, pp. 110 and 116.

Catalogue Note

The Medinaceli Vanvitellis

This and the next lot form part of a series of views of great beauty and importance, that were commissioned from Gaspar van Wittel – his name italianized as Vanvitelli ­– by the ninth Duke of Medinaceli, Viceroy of Naples, in around 1700. They have never before been offered on the open market and have remained in the family of his direct descendants until recently.

Born in 1660 into one of Spain’s oldest and most wealthy families, Don Luís Francisco de la Cerda Fernández de Córdova Folch de Cardona y Aragón was heir to the Dukedom of Medinaceli.1 He came to high office at an early age; by the time he was twenty-four, Charles II had appointed him Commander General of the Galleys of Naples and only three years later, in 1687, he was made Ambassador to Rome. There he enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and conducted a scandalous affair with the celebrated cantatrice Angela Voglia, known as la Giorgina, who was much sought after by his rival, the Duke of Mantua.2 In 1691 Don Luís’ father, the eighth Duke, died. His titles and vast fortune passed to his son, who following in the tradition of a number of his forebears, including the first and third Dukes of Alcalá, was appointed Viceroy of Naples in 1696.3

Since 1503 the Kingdom of Naples was governed by the Hapsburg monarchy under a system of viceroys. During this period Naples was transformed into a great administrative capital, so much so that by the time of Don Luís’s succession it was the most populous city in Europe after Paris. Following his arrival in the city as the new Viceroy, he developed ambitious schemes of urban construction and renewal. It was in connection with these plans that Don Luís chose to commission a series of views of the city from Vanvitelli, the leading vedutista, whom he invited to Naples to carry out the task. Vanvitelli accepted and left for Naples in 1699.   

Vanvitelli had probably arrived in Rome in 1674. A Dutchman, from Amersfoot near Utrecht, he had trained initially under Matthias Withoos, a painter of still lifes, landscapes and the occasional city view, who himself had worked in Rome between1648 and 1652. Vanvitelli’s earliest known works are a series of fifty drawings made to accompany a report prepared for Pope Clement X by the Dutch hydraulic engineer Cornelis Meyer, which investigated the possibility of extending the navigability of the Tiber upstream from Rome. By the early 1680s Vanvitelli appears to have made view painting a particular speciality.

Initially working principally in gouache but by the end of the decade painting the majority of his works in oils, Vanvitelli brought to the genre an eye for striking compositions, often utilising a high viewpoint and rendering individual elements with meticulous detail, while using a strong, clear light to provide a sense of unity. His innovative depictions of the principal sights of Rome found a receptive audience with a number of the city’s most established families, including the Colonna family, who were his greatest patrons, the Albani family, Marchese Sacchetti, Principi Caracciolo d’Avellino and Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga. His repertoire of views increased following trips to Lombardy in 1690, and Florence, Bologna, Verona and Venice, probably in 1694–95.     

Medinaceli’s importance as a collector is revealed in the inventory drawn up soon after his death.4 Of the 389 paintings listed, a number of remarkable works have been identified. These include Rubens painting the ‘Allegory of Peace’ by Luca Giordano, The Spinners (Hilanderas) by Velázquez and The Wine of St Martin’s Day by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, all three of which are today in the Museo del Prado, Madrid.5 Judging from the inventory overall, the Duke clearly favoured Italian art, with works by seventeenth-century artists particularly well represented. The work that carried the highest value in the collection was a painting by Reni valued at 20,000 reales.6

The collection boasted a remarkable abundance of view paintings, which account for more than a quarter of the whole inventory. The largest group by far comprises thirty-six vedute by Vanvitelli and includes this and the following lot. Thirty-five view paintings are listed together – including lot 40 – and one more view of Florence by Vanvitelli (‘Mas una pintura de la Ciudad de Florencia grande [...] de Gasparo Vambitel’) – this lot – appears under a separate heading with works that belonged to Don Luís’s nephew and successor, the 10th Duke, Don Nicolás Fernández de Córdoba, Marquis of Priego and Duke of Feria.7 Its omission from the main list reads like an oversight.8 This brings the total of Vanvitellis in Medinaceli possession to thirty-six.9

It is more than likely that Don Luís would have known of Vanvitelli when he was serving as Ambassador to Rome in the late 1680s and into the 1690s. The group of six Roman views that Don Luís owned may well have been acquired at this time, although it is possible these were painted later. Of these, the most highly prized was the View of the Piazza Navona, still in the collection of the Dukes of Medinaceli at the Hospital de Tavera, Toledo.10 Indeed Don Luís may already have formed a close acquaintance with the artist before he left for Naples, for later, in 1700, he became godfather to the artist’s son, Luigi (d. 1773), who was to become the foremost architect in Naples in the eighteenth century.

In his biography of the artist, Lione Pascoli, art historian and collector, writes that Vanvitelli decided to go to Naples in 1699 and stayed there for more than two years. During that time he remained in the service of the Duke, for which he received a stipend of 120 ducats per month.11 In 1702 Vanvitelli returned to Rome after his patron Don Luís had already gone back to Spain. Although Vanvitelli’s sojourn in Naples was relatively brief, thirteen paintings of the city and its environs are recorded in the Duke’s possession after his death. As Vanvitelli’s practice was to paint full-scale paintings in oil in his studio based on drawings made on site, it is conceivable that some of these views of Naples were made on the artist’s return to Rome and sent on to Spain. Nevertheless others were undoubtedly painted in Naples, as attested, for example, by A Prospect of Naples from the sea, which is dated 1702 and inscribed ‘NAP’, confirming that it was painted there (fig. 1).12     

Following his return to Spain, Medinaceli took the side of the new Bourbon King, Philip V, in the War of Succession, and was appointed Prime Minister in 1709. Little over a year later however, he was removed from office on suspicion of liaising with the Austrian Pretender, a crime of high treason. He died in prison in 1711, probably murdered on the orders of the King, whom he had so recently supported.

A striking feature of the inventory is the value placed on different works, as well as the paucity of religious subjects overall and of Spanish paintings in particular. Of the latter only fifteen are listed. Most notable among them is The Spinners by Velázquez (already mentioned above).13 This was valued in the inventory at 3,000 reales, equal to the most highly prized Vanvitellis in the collection.

Many of the vedute are depictions of Naples and the surrounding countryside but there were also views of Venice, Florence and Rome. The quantity of works that Don Luís acquired shows him to have been by far the most important of Vanvitelli’s non-Italian patrons, and second only to the artist’s most avid Roman patrons, the Colonna family, whose printed catalogue of 1783 lists more than one hundred works by the artist, some of which are still in the collection today.14 Of the 36 entries for works by Vanvitelli in Medinaceli ownership, thirteen clearly describe views of Naples or its immediate surroundings. Of these, six have been connected with works by the artist that are either recorded in the 1996 revised edition of Briganti’s monograph or that have subsequently come to light. With the emergence of the View of the Bay of Pozzuoli and its clear identification in the inventory, it too can be added to the group (lot 40).15

Of the five views of Venice listed in the inventory, only one can be positively identified.16 Similarly, only one of the six Roman views has been linked with assurance to the inventory;17 a second view recently detected is likely to be the one of the Colosseum now in a private collection.18 Of the remaining views, the imposing View of Tivoli, now in a private collection, was one of the five most highly valued works at 3,000 reales. Three of the four views of Florence – those with lower valuations of between 1,000 and 1,200 reales – and seven views without specific locations are so far untraced, although two of these are probably to be identified with the View of Nisida and the View of Nisida and Capo Miseno, in the Medinaceli collection at Casa de Pilatos, Seville.19

The panoramic vedute

The Duke of Medinaceli’s inventory records that A View of the Bay of Pozzuoli, lot 40, and A Prospect of Posilippo with the Palazzo Donn’Anna and Naples in the background (fig. 2), another of the magnificent views that sold in these Rooms in 2001 and today in the Peter Moores Foundation, Compton Verney, were both valued at 2,200 reales;20 while a third veduta, the one dated 1702, A Prospect of Naples from the sea, looking north-east towards the Castel dell’Ovo, now in a private collection (see fig. 1, above), was deemed to be worth considerably more, at 3,000 reales.21 The View of Florence (this lot) of the same grand format was also valued at 2,200 reales. One other breathtaking veduta, Vanvitelli’s View of the Badia Fiesolana, also part of the Medinaceli group and now in a private collection, has the same dimensions and may have been part of this ‘set’ (fig. 3).22

Besides the ambitious scale and impressive dimensions of all five of the panoramic vedute that have come to light in recent years, one further feature should be noted in relation to three of them: the presence of a letter ‘E’, presumably an inventory or collection mark, in a corner of each canvas. In the case of A View of the Bay of Pozzuoli, lot 40 in the present sale, this discreet marker is evident at the lower left. The same letter ‘E’ has been noted also at the lower left of both of the other two views: A Prospect of Posilippo with the Palazzo Donn’Anna and Naples in the background (fig. 2) and A Prospect of Naples from the sea, looking north-east towards the Castel dell’Ovo (fig. 1). Not only do all three Neapolitan vedute have this distinguishing feature, each canvas is of the same dimensions. This suggests that these highly valued paintings may have formed part of a particular ensemble in the collection.23

Since the eighteenth century, the collection of the ninth Duke of Medinaceli has gradually been subdivided and dispersed, particularly following the final abolition of the laws of primogeniture in Spain in 1841. With the death of the seventeenth Duke in 1956, seven-ninths of the estate was inherited by his youngest daughter, the Duchess of Cardona, with the remaining two-ninths passing to her two older step-sisters, the Duchess of Medinaceli and the Duchess of Lerma.  

The paintings from the period of Vanvitelli’s employment by Don Luís in Naples are of great significance in being the first that the artist made of the city. They established a new visual vocabulary that was to have a profound influence on future generations of artists. In the same way that Vanvitelli’s Venetian works provided the starting point for the development of the Venetian veduta though Carlevarijs and then Canaletto, his series of views of Naples created for the ninth Duke of Medinaceli represents a crucial stage in the development of the veduta. In Naples Vanvitelli’s legacy was to continue into the nineteenth century through Vernet and Lusieri, while his Roman views and those done in and around Florence were an important point of reference for later vedutisti in those cities.

Florence, a view of the city from the right bank of the River Arno looking towards the Ponte alla Carraia

This unpublished view of Florence by Van Wittel – better known by his Italian sobriquet Vanvitelli – came to light only recently, having first belonged to Don Luís Francisco de la Cerda Fernández de Córdova Folch de Cardona y Aragón, ninth Duke of Medinaceli (1660–1711), and then to his heir Don Nicolás Maria Fernández de Córdoba y Figueroa de la Cerda, Marqués de Priego and Duke of Feria (1682–1739), who succeeded as tenth Duke. In a manuscript inventory datable to 1711, the painting is recorded at Don Nicolás’s palace in Priego, Córdoba.24 Don Nicolás inherited the painting from his uncle Don Luís, the man responsible for commissioning Vanvitelli’s celebrated series of vedute of important Italian cities and sights.

The view is taken looking south-east from the Cascine on the right bank of the River Arno to the pescaia di Santa Rosa. To the left, in the distance and somewhat hidden behind trees, are the dome and bell tower of the Duomo. At the centre of the painting is the Ponte alla Carraia, the second bridge to be built over the Arno after the Ponte Vecchio, depicted beyond. Between the two bridges is the Ponte Santa Trinità, its piers just visible through the arches of the Ponte alla Carraia. The buildings along the Lungarno Corsini are greatly foreshortened, while the principal view is of the left bank, from the Lungarno Guicciardini to the Lungarno Soderini. Here, a long stretch of river is flanked by the city’s ancient medieval walls, their crenelated edges catching the afternoon sun. The most prominent landmark across the river is the cupola of San Frediano in Cestello; visible just beyond to the left are the dome and belltower of Santo Spirito rising above the skyline. The Fortezza del Belvedere rises on the hill in the distance. On the hills to the left, are San Miniato al Monte and San Salvatore al Monte. Furthest to the right of the cityscape is the Porta di San Frediano, welcoming thorough its gateway a procession of minutely painted figures.

The View of Florence is cited in the inventory as: ‘Mas una pintura de la Ciudad de Florencia grande q. falto de poner en las treinta y siete Pinturas de Gasparo Vambitel tassada en… 2.200 rs.’. Estimated at 2,200 reales, the same sum as the View of the Bay of Pozzuoli (the following lot), the View of Florence was among the dozen or so most valuable of the Medinaceli Vanvitellis, of which there were thirty-six in total (one was a duplicate entry). Indeed, as might be expected, there is some correlation between size and value in the inventory; of those that can be identified today, the smaller works tend to have been given lower values than the larger ones. The identical size of this Florentine panorama and the Bay of Pozzuoli may account for their equal valuation.

The similarity between the two views extends beyond merely their dimensions; they also share the same breadth, scope and informality of setting. The lack of pomposity in Vanvitelli’s vedute is especially notable in the vivid immediacy of the people who inhabit his landscapes. He records the comings and goings of people on the road, shepherds tending their flock by the river’s edge, and even fishermen at work in the shallows.  

Vanvitelli came to Florence on more than one occasion; it is certain he was in the city in 1694, staying for some months before continuing on to Bologna and Venice. The composition exists in three other versions, none of which is dated: a signed version on copper (45 by 74.5 cm.) in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence; a version on canvas (50.4 by 99 cm.) in the Colonna collection, Rome; and a third of very similar size to the latter (50 by 99 cm.) in the collection of the Cassa di Risparmio, Florence.25 As noted by Vitzthum, they must postdate 1702, the year in which the cupola of San Frediano in Cestello was erected.26 Each version differs considerably in format from the Medinaceli veduta, which is not only the largest but the most emphatically panoramic. The most obvious differences between the versions are the cloud formations and the numerous modifications to the figures, animals and carriages. The carriage with red and gold livery, driving in the direction of the Duomo, would appear to be unique to the Medinaceli veduta. A pen and ink drawing of the same view, on a squared sheet that was probably cut along the right hand margin, is in the collection of the Palazzo Reale, Caserta (fig. 4).27

Although some of the vedute that were part of the ninth Duke of Medinaceli’s original commission are today distributed among public museums and private collections, a number of unidentified paintings remain in the collection. The recent rediscovery of the View of Florence represents the most significant addition to the relatively few views of Florence and its surroundings painted by Vanvitelli in Italy.

1. V. Lleó Cañal, ‘The art collection of the ninth Duke of Medinaceli’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXXI, no. 1031, February 1989, pp. 108–16.

2. W. R. de Villa-Urrutia, La embajada del Marqués de Cogolludo a Roma en 1687; y El Duque de Medinaceli y la Giorgina, Madrid 1927, p. 46.

3. Lleó Cañal gives the year as 1692; see Lleó Cañal 1989, p. 108.

4. Lleó Cañal 1989, pp. 112–16.

5. These appear in the inventory as nos 1, 18 and 39 respectively. 

6. Described in the inventory as a ‘School of Children’; see Lleó Cañal 1989, p. 110.

7. Nos 176–210 and no. 323; lot 40 corresponds with no. 180 and lot 39 with no. 323.

8. ‘…q. falto de poner en las trienta y siete Pinturas de Gasparo Vambitel…’; see Lleó Cañal 1989, p. 116.

9. The inventory actually includes thirty-seven entries for the artist but one is acknowledged as a duplicate entry.

10. No. 176 in the inventory and valued at 3,000 reales.

11. L. Pascoli, ed. G. Briganti et al., Vite de’ pittori, scultori ed architetti viventi..., Treviso 1981, pp. 10 and 17, and pp. 23–24, notes 21 and 31 respectively.

12. London, Sotheby’s, 13 December 2001, as lot 86.

13. Prado Museum, Madrid, no. 1173.

14. Capolavori da Scoprire: Colonna, Doria Pamphilj, Pallavicini, ed. G. Lepri, Milan 2005, exh. cat.  Rome, Galleria Colonna; Palazzo Doria Pamphilj and Galleria Pallavicini, 2–26 June 2005. We are grateful to Laura Laureati for this reference.

15. This leaves six remaining Neapolitan views once in Don Luís’s possession that cannot with certainty be connected with any recorded works: inventory nos 178, 185 or 186, 188, 197, 198 and 210.

16. No. 177: La Plaza de San Marcos, still in the collection of the Dukes of Medinaceli at the Hospital de Tavera, Toledo. Briganti 1996, rev. ed. Laureati and Trezzani, no. 286.

17. No. 176: La Plaza Navona, also at the Hospital de Tavera, Toledo. Briganti 1996, rev. ed. Laureati and Trezzani, no. 44.

18. See Beddington in Naples 1997–98.

19. Nos 208 and 209: Peñascos y marina and Otra de peñas y marina. Briganti 1996, rev. ed. Laureati and Trezzani, nos 395 and 396.

20. See L. Laureati in Vanvitelli, Robilant and Voena, London 2008, no. 28.

21. Oil on canvas, both 72.7 x 170.3 cm. London, Sotheby’s, 13 December 2001, as lots 85 and 86 respectively; the former for £2,000,000, the latter for £1,650,000.

22. It is probable that the View of the Badia Fiesolana corresponds with no. 199 in the inventory, ‘Pais y Rio de largo de dos varas’, valued at 2,200 reales, rather than no. 179, ‘Pays por una puente’, worth slightly less at 2,000 reales. The dimensions given of the former, ‘largo de dos varas’, albeit not precise, suggest that the Fiesole veduta is another panorama of comparable width to the other four paintings.

23. Similar in form to the letter ‘E’ is the letter ‘A’ that appears at the lower left of a view of the Colosseum that was formerly in the collection of the Duchess of Almazan, Madrid (72.5 x 125 cm.); see Briganti 1996, ed. Laureati and Trezzani, p. 155, no. 63, reproduced in colour on p. 156. The view of the Colosseum is the presumed pendant of a painting now in the Cincinnati Museum of Art depicting the ‘Plaza del Palacio de Napoles’; 71.9 x 124.6 cm.; see C. Beddington, in Capolavori in Festa: Effimero barocco a largo di Palazzo (1683–1759), Naples, Palazzo Reale, 20 December 1997 – 15 March 1998, p. 143. 

24. Although not listed together with the 35 other vedute by Vanvitelli in the Inventario general de todos los trastos y vienes muebles pertenecientes a la Cassa del Exmo. Sr. Marques Duque de Medinazeli, mi señor (Ms., Archivio Ducal de Medinaceli, Seville), there is an entry for the painting in a section titled Pinturas de la Cassa del Marques mi Sr. de Priego, under no. 323, which states that the painting failed to be included with the other Vanvitellis. This indicates therefore that the View of Florence was also part of the group commissioned by the 9th Duke. Gabriele Finaldi and Pilar Silva Maroto in their report on another Medinaceli painting, The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, published on the Museo del Prado website (September 2010), argue under note 14 that the inventory was drawn up some time after the 9th Duke’s death (and not immediately after his death, as stated by Lleó Cañal), when Don Nicólas acquired ownership of his predecessor’s possessions; and that the title ‘Sr. Marques Duque de Medinazeli’ refers in fact to Don Nicólas, Marquis of Priego. That the bulk of the collection was inherited by Don Nicolás from the estate of Don Luís is confirmed by a note near the end of the first part of the inventory, which specifies that ‘todas estas Pinturas son las que se trajeron de la testamentaria del Duque mi Sr. Dn. Luís de la Zerda’; see Lleó Cañal 1989, pp. 109 and 115–16.

25. See L. Laureati in G. Briganti, Gaspar van Wittel, rev. ed. L. Laureati and L. Trezzani, Milan 1996, pp. 231–32, nos 270, 271 and 272, the first and last reproduced.

26. W. Vitzthum in Gaspar Van Wittel (1652/53–1736). Disegni dalle Collezioni Napoletane, exhibition catalogue, Gaeta, Palazzo De Vio, August–September 1980, p. 136. See also Laureati in Briganti 1996, rev. ed. Laureati and Trezzani, p. 231.

27. 286 x 442 mm. As inv. 141, according to Vitzthum (see Vitzthum 1980, no. 59, reproduced on p. 137); as inv. 1600, according to Trezzani (see Briganti 1996, rev. ed. Laureati and Trezzani, p. 321, no. D91).