Our painting represents the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1779, with its characteristic tall column of lava, seen from the harbour of Naples with its Santa Lucia lighthouse at left.
Such a paintings were made for so-called Grand Tour tourists, wealthy Englishmen who travelled in Italy.
At the foot of the volcano our unidentified painter has represented the town of Herculaneum which was destroyed at the same time as Pompeii in 79 AD.
About the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius during the 1770s
Our painting, sadly unsigned, must have been made for one of the many Grand Tour travellers who came to Naples in the 1770s to witness the numerous eruptions of Mount Vesuvius.
Eighteenth century wealthy English gentlemen would complete their education with an extended sojourn in Italy to admire Classical ruins, picturesque landscapes, artistic masterpieces and natural attractions.
This potential new market, a mixture of tourism, scientific curiosity and a need for visual souvenirs, made several important artists move to Naples where they painted spectacular views of the activity of the volcano. Among these international painters I should mention Pierre-Jacques Volaire (1729-1799), Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1997), Jacob Philipp Hackert (1737-1807), Michael Wutky (1739-1822/23), Jacob More (1740-1793) and Pietro Antoniani (circa 1740-1805).
The English ambassador in Naples, William Hamilton, who was strongly interested in volcanoes, befriended some of these painters.
The most sensational views of these violent and terrifying explosions were of course set at night with lively contrasts between the fiery red and warm yellow hues of the lava with the harsher and darker colours of the night.
About our painting
In the second half of the 18th century Mount Vesuvius had entered an intense phase of seismic activity. Eruptions occurred in 1771, 1773, 1774, 1775, 1776 and 1779. Our painter must have painted the eruption of 1779, with its characteristic tall column of lava.
Our view was painted from the harbour of Naples: at left one sees a lighthouse inspired by the Faro di Santa Lucia which stood at the end of the Molo, along the Riviera de Chiaia until the 2nd half of the 19th century.
Our painter has combined the eruption of 1779 with a historic subject, as did Jacob More, in his grand view of the Vesuvius from the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh:
- in More’s painting the destruction of Pompeii and in the foreground the death of Pliny the Elder;
- in our painting the destruction of Herculaneum at the foot of the Vesuvius.
Herculaneum was a small Roman town, laying W. Of Vesuvius, on the coast, between the volcano and Naples. Just like Pompeii it was destroyed by the eruption of 79 AD. It was covered by a thick layer of lava. Its theatre was discovered in 1709 and from 1739 onwards further exavations followed. Only a small portion of the marvellously well preserved town has been excavated, as a later town, which of course is still inhabited, was build on top of the circa 20 meters thick layer of lava covering the Roman town.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because this spectacular painting is typical of the interest in volcanoes during the Age of Enlightenment.