The iconic view depicted here was a principal attraction of the Grand Tour. From the same spot as the author of this study, artists including Achille-Etna Michallon and Johann Joachim Faber produced essentially the same composition: seen through the cleft between Virgil’s Tomb at left and the rocky outcropping at right is the spectacle of Naples climbing up the facing slope, with Castel Sant’Elmo at its peak. When it appeared on the art market about 1999, this unsigned work was attributed to the French painter Jean-François Robert (1778–1832) on the basis of stylistic affinity with a pair of Neapolitan views, now in a private collection, one of which is signed and dated 1805 (see Ref. Mackinnon 1999; photos of these unpublished paintings, formerly with Didier Aaron, New York and Paris, are in the Department of European Paintings archive file). Robert did indeed excel at the sort of finely detailed rendering seen in this study, and it is no coincidence that he was a foremost painter of landscapes on porcelain, two superb examples of which are found in the Museum’s collection (2011.545–46).
The sketch was recently recognized as a study by Catel that served as the basis for his painting of the same composition (Museum Folkwang, Essen). The finished painting includes a figure tentatively identified as Count Alexander Nikolaevich Golitsyn (1773–1844), who accompanied Catel on a trip to southern Italy in 1818. The neoclassical Villa Lucia, visible in both works, was not completed until that year (see Romanticism and Nature: A selection of 19th century paintings and oil sketches, Daxer & Marshall, Munich, and Thomas le Claire, Hamburg, 2004, pp. 20–21, ill., and Andreas Stolzenburg, Franz Ludwig Catel [1778–1856]: paesaggista e pittore di genere, exh. cat., Casa di Goethe, Rome, 2007, p. 53, fig. 29).
The attribution of this sketch is supported by close technical similarities with another painting by Catel, A View of Naples through a Window, of 1824 (Cleveland Museum of Art; see Charlotte Hale, Examination Report, July 26, 2011, and Dean Yoder, e-mail, November 9, 2011). The attribution is affirmed by Stolzenburg (e-mails, December 22, 2011, and May 3, 2012; all documentation in Department of European Paintings files).
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013. Note: in addition to the invaluable contributions offered by the persons named above, the cooperation of Susanne Brüning, Sabine Rewald, and Marcia Steele is also gratefully acknowledged.]