Jacob Philippe Hackert (Prenzlau 1737-1807 San Pietro di Careggi)
A view of the Bay of Pozzuoli signed and dated 'Filippo Hackert dipinse 1798' (lower right) oil on canvas 64 x 96cm (25 3/16 x 37 13/16in).
PROVENANCE: Christie's, London, 10 December 1958, lot 164 Sale, Adolph Weinmüller, Munich, 18-19 March 1959, lot 766 With Otto-Galerie, exhibited Munich Art Fair, 1995 Private Collection
LITERATURE: C. Nordhoff and H. Reimer, Jakob Philipp Hackert 1737-1807: Verzeichnis seiner Werke (Berlin, 1994), vol. 2, cat. no. 275, p. 133, fig. 41
Jakob Philipp Hackert's fortunes were first promoted by the support of Sir William Hamilton, British envoy to the court of Naples, and rapidly rose to become one of Europe's most important landscape artists. In 1786 he was appointed court painter by King Ferdinand IV of the Two Sicilies. In that same year Johann Wolfgang von Goethe embarked on his Italian travels and met Hackert in person in Naples in the beginning of 1787. Hackert made such an enduring impression on Goethe that after the artist's death in 1807 the German poet wrote his first biography, which was published in 1811.
Impressed by the topographical accuracy of the artist's vedute, King Ferdinand commissioned him to execute views of the royal seats and hunting grounds. After producing several gouaches showing areas of the kingdom with which the King had a close personal connection, the artist was then commissioned to paint a Four Seasons cycle for the royal Casino di Fusaro. The topographical subjects were laid down by the King, who for the painting, Autumn, chose the Bay of Pozzuoli. For the King, however, as Bettina Werche has noted, the principal criterion that made [the locations] particularly worthy of depiction was the simple fact of their being on royal sovereign territory.' (exh. cat. Weimar and Hamburg 2008, p.183).
The first evidence of the artist turning his attention to this specific view is provided by two drawings that in combination form a panoramic view of the Bay of Pozzuoli from the high-lying Monastery of San Gennaro similar to that seen in the present painting (View over the Bay of Pozzuoli I, pencil, Berlin Kupferstichkabinett, inv. no. 142-1986). The artist subsequently made a number of further depictions of the Bay of Pozzuoli from various standpoints. For these the royal commission laid down particular parameters for the works, since what the King required were not idealized landscapes of the kind that Hackert had cultivated in the years immediately before, but topographically accurate and recognisable vedute.
While Hackert's depictions of this subject from the years 1785 and 1787 showed the view as seen from Monte Nuovo, an example from 1793 (oil on canvas, 65 x 97 cm., art market, Munich and London) and three others from 1798 and 1799 show the view from the volcanic crater of Solfatara. One of these is the present painting, the others being View over the Bay of Pozzuoli I (oil on canvas, 64.4 x 97 cm., Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, inv. no. 8533/945), and View over the Bay of Pozzuoli III (oil on canvas, 96.5 x 134.6 cm., Attingham Park, The National Trust, inv. Attingham no. 86). The old town of Pozzuoli is clearly seen on a rocky promontory with the domes of the Cathedral and the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Visible on the far side of the bay are the Castello Aragonese of Baia and behind the island of Procida and Ischia's Monte Epomeo. The stretch of coast across the waters terminates in the Capo Miseno and mountain of the same name. Although all four vedute have staffage in the form of trees, the present painting is the only one to offer a free and unimpaired view of the bay, as the trees an oak, two pines, a number of cypresses on the left and a slender palm on the right simply frame the view on either side, while the other versions give a more important role to the trees, which serve to divide up and articulate the overall composition.
Hackert was in his own lifetime particularly admired for his renderings of trees and plants and the present painting offers an exemplary demonstration of Hackert's celebrated ability to depict the contrasting characteristics of the oak, pine, cypress and palm. We thus find an accurate differentiation here between the characteristic leaves and needles of the various tree species, and even the faithful reproduction of the low bushes and shrubs. And yet, added to the precision of this artist's observation of natural phenomena - also reflected in the animals in the foreground and the topographical accuracy required by his royal patron - the artist still pays homage to the ever-popular tradition of the bucolic idyll by including staffage in the form of a shepherd resting on the grass. Even in this classic veduta beauty and harmony have their place.