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jakob philipp hackert
(1737 Prenzlau – 1807 San Piero di Careggio)

Landscape near Vietri. Watercolour and pen in grayish-brown ink, with a borderline in pen and gold-brown ink on the original mount. Sheet size 58.3 x 37.2 cm. Inscribed in pen and brown ink by the artist: Vietri. Before 1779. Illustrated in Wolfgang Krönig/Reinhard Wegner, Jakob Philipp Hackert, Cologne,Weimar,Vienna, 1994, ill. 55.

After a number of successful years in Paris, in 1768 the artist Jakob Philipp Hackert moved to Rome, where in a short period of time he achieved international fame. He is considered to be the landscape artist par excellence of the Goethe era. Together with his younger and no-less-skilled brother Johann Gottlieb Hackert, who followed him to Italy, he formed an effective ­artistic collaboration, specializing in views and landscapes for Grand Tourists and for members of the nobility in Rome and Naples. In Rome Hackert enjoyed great social prestige and was welcomed in the highest aristocratic circles. Among his friends were such prominent figures as the English art collector Sir William Hamilton and the influential antiquarian and privy councillor Johann Friedrich Reifenstein as well as artists like Johan Tobias Sergel and Angelika Kauffmann. Important ­commissions for the Russian Empress Catherine II and other European nobles soon followed. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, with whom Hackert remained friends after his first Italian journey, held the artist in high esteem and wrote the first biography of him after his death in 1807. Hackert’s success is even more remarkable considering that when he moved to Rome the city was not yet the obligatory destination for all German artists. Due to the death of Giovanni Paolo Panini in 1765, however, there was effectively an opening in Rome for veduti, one that Hackert was well prepared to fill. And while such vedutisti of the previous generation as Panini, Gaspar van Wittel, and Hendrik Frans van Lint painted mainly city views, Hackert celebrated the beautiful landscapes of lesser-known Italian regions. The references to places and times recorded on many of his drawings give us a detailed and vivid sense of the artist’s indefatigable explorations in these areas.

Hackert left a very large drawn oeuvre. While drawings exe­cuted with the point of the brush and sepia ink, that mostly served as ricordi or records of a scene for later use in the studio exist in considerable numbers, large and carefully executed ­watercolors by the artist are far less common. The present sheet assumes a highly important position within the oeuvre of the artist. This impressive vertical drawing shows the picturesque town of Vietri on the Gulf of Naples. From a high perspective the viewer is presented with a sandy pathway that leads into the depths of the composition. In the foreground a man on horseback is accompanied by two closely defined hunting dogs. The village of Vietri in the middle ground embedded between two rocky, greenish hills is only partially shown. A high ­mountain peak appears in the background, its dominance only counterbalanced by the fluid foliage of a tree in the left foreground. Hackert’s coloring is delicate and careful and reduced to cool shades of green, brown, and blue. The entire compo­sition evokes a light, elegiac mood typical of the German artistic vision of Italy at the end of the eighteenth century. The sheet was possibly executed during Hackert’s first trip to Naples in the spring of 1770 at the invitation of Sir William Hamilton. The stay in Naples was complicated, however, by the fact that during it Hackert fell seriously ill. His doctor insisted he stay for longer periods in the coastal towns of Vietri and La Cava. Since Hackert used this composition in a slightly altered version as the design for the title page of the etched series Suite de IV Vues dans le Royaume de Naples (Heller-Andresen 1, fig.2), it must have meant a great deal to him.