Lot 40
  • 40

Gaspar van Wittel, called Vanvitelli

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
845,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Gaspar van Wittel, called Vanvitelli
  • A View of the Bay of Pozzuoli, near Naples, taken from the east, looking towards the port of Baia, with the Islands of Nisida, Procida and Ischia
  • 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;

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


Inventario general de todos los trastos y vienes muebles pertenecientes a la Cassa del Exmo. Sr. Marques Duque de Medinazeli, mi señor, Ms. in the Archivio Ducal de Medinaceli, Seville, 1711, no. 180: Territorio de Pozuelo con las Islas no247… 2.200 rs.;

V. Lleó Cañal, ‘The art collection of the ninth Duke of Medinaceli’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXXI, no. 1031, February 1989, pp. 109–10, 115;

L. Trezzani in Gaspare Vanvitelli e le origini del vedutismo, exhibition catalogue, Rome, Chiostro del Bramante, 16 October 2002 – 9 February 2003, and Venice, Museo Correr, 28 February – 18 May 2003, p. 45.

Catalogue Note

The Medinaceli Vanvitellis

This and the preceding 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 preceding lot. Thirty-five view paintings are listed together – including this lot – and one more view of Florence by Vanvitelli (‘Mas una pintura de la Ciudad de Florencia grande [...] de Gasparo Vambitel’) – lot 39 – 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, this too can be added to the group.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, this lot, 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 (lot 39 in the present sale) 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, this lot, 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.

A View of the Bay of Pozzuoli, near Naples, taken from the east, looking towards the port of Baia, with the Islands of Nisida, Procida and Ischia

This beautiful panoramic view of the Bay of Pozzuoli, just to the west of Naples, is unique and exists in no other versions by the artist. The picture formed part of one of Vanvitelli’s most important commissions, a series of thirty-six Italian views, predominantly of Naples and its surroundings, for one of his leading patrons, Don Luís Francisco de la Cerda Fernández de Córdova Folch de Cardona y Aragón, ninth Duke of Medinaceli (1660–1711) and Viceroy of Naples.

Don Luís amassed an extraordinary collection of paintings during his lifetime and the inventory taken after his death in 1711 lists 389 paintings, including fifteen said to be by Guido Reni (1575–1642), eleven by Carlo Maratta (1625–1713), and six by Luca Giordano (1634–1705).24 By far the most numerous however are those by Vanvitelli, who painted no less than thirty-six works for the Duke. This painting, A View of the Bay of Pozzuoli, is listed in the inventory under no. 180 and valued at 2,200 reales: ‘Territorio de Pozuelo con las Islas no 247… 2.200 rs.

The view is taken from the eastern shores of the Bay of Pozzuoli, close to Via Coroglio which runs parallel to the sea, and looks out over the bay towards the port of Baia (visible in the distance to the right of the tall tree in the foreground) and Cape Miseno in the centre of the picture. In greatest proximity to the shore lies the island of Nisida (on the immediate left of the bay), with the island of Procida situated beyond the Cape, and the much larger island of Ischia visible in the far distance. The shifting appearance of land and sea as it recedes towards a notional horizon is rendered with great subtlety by Vanvitelli, who no doubt chose this particular viewpoint for its scenic qualities. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Bay of Pozzuoli grew in popularity as a destination for Grand Tourists wishing to enjoy its panoramic views.

Two factors suggest a dating of around 1700 for this painting: Vanvitelli's presence in Naples in the service of the Duke and a signed and dated drawing now in the Museo di San Martino, Naples (fig. 1).25 The drawing, executed in pen and ink, with grey and blue watercolour, is inscribed: Strada di Puzzolo / G: V.W. 1701, and depicts a vista from the road between Naples and Pozzuoli that is very similar to that seen in the painting. Recognisable across the water are Miseno, the town of Bacoli and the islands of Procida and Ischia beyond, but in the drawing their alignment has shifted somewhat as the artist has adopted a different viewpoint near to the shore along the bay. Vanvitelli is sketching what he sees from the coast road in the vicinity of Bagnoli. The view is captured from close to the water’s edge and with a foreground of jagged rocks but the silhouette of the islands on the horizon is the same as in his painted panorama. Looking at the shoreline at the right of the painting, one might well imagine the artist sitting close to the roadside, a rocky promontory before him, sketching the view before him. Although it cannot yet be established whether or not the drawing preceded the painting or vice versa, nevertheless it serves as a vivid testimony to the artist’s presence in Pozzuoli in 1701 and is all the more important as the only drawing that can be connected to the composition.

In the painting Vanvitelli adopts a particularly original approach. In contrast to the formality of his urban views, the artist has embraced the feeling of the outdoors and taken a far more naturalistic approach to the scene, including an array of incidental detail from everyday life. In the foreground is a modest stone dwelling; through the open door stands a young woman in a light-filled courtyard going about her day-to-day tasks; on the roof, a line of washing hangs out to dry, blowing gently in the wind and catching the light of the warm sunshine. To the right of the building stands a tall but ragged tree that has become overgrown with ivy or a vine. On the left two monks converse with two women, one of whom holds a baby; set back from them, in the shade of a nearby tree, an elderly man watches on; and beyond them a group of other women – some dancing, some playing music – amble along the road. The scene has an arresting sense of informality and calm. The artist’s highly naturalistic approach, which conveys a palpable sense of open space, seems more akin in spirit to the work of plein-air painters of the early nineteenth century than from the age of the founder of the view painting tradition.

Although no other painted versions by Vanvitelli of this particular view are known, in the Fundación Casa Ducal de Medinaceli are two views of Nisida seen from opposing sides, the View of Nisida and its pendant View of Nisida and Capo Miseno, the former taken from the eastern shore and the latter from a point further to the south of the present view, close to the head of the eastern side of the Bay of Pozzuoli.26 These too were done for Medinaceli and remain in the collection. Demand for views of the bay of Pozzuoli appears to have grown substantially during the eighteenth century as attested by the existence of views by several later vedutisti, including Antonio Joli (c. 1700–77); Tommaso Ruiz, in Naples in the mid-eighteenth century; Gabriele Ricciardelli (active between 1740 and 1780); and Jacob Philipp Hackert (1737–1807), who painted a number of views of the area that Vanvitelli had depicted a century before.27



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. For the inventory see Lleó Cañal 1989, pp. 112–16.  

25. Museo di San Martino, Naples, inv. 23905; 370 x 495 mm. W. Vitzthum in Gaspar Van Wittel (1652/53–1736). Disegni dalle Collezioni Napoletane, exhibition catalogue, Gaeta, Palazzo De Vio, August–September 1980, pp. 150–51, no. 66, reproduced pl. 66. See also L. Trezzani in G. Briganti, Gaspar van Wittel, rev. ed. L. Laureati and L. Trezzani, Milan 1996, pp. 377–79, no. D264, reproduced p. 378.

26. Both oil on canvas, 71 x 123 cm.; see N. Spinosa (ed.), All’ombra del Vesuvio, exhibition catalogue, Naples, Castel Sant’Elmo, 12 May – 29 July 1990, pp. 257–58, reproduced, and p. 438.

27. See Naples 1990, pp. 248 ff.