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Antonio Senape

(1788 Rome – 1850 Naples)

Panoramic View of Naples from the Sea. Pen and brown ink over pencil, assembled from six sheets. Approx. 23.5 x 215 cm. Circa 1845.

The veduta, executed with meticulous attention to detail and assiduous draughtsmanship, shows the port city of Naples from the Posillipo Hills to Castellamare in panoramic breadth. It is a cultural-historical document of considerable significance, since it shows the city at the time of the Bourbon Restoration and before the numerous urban development interventions of the 20th century. The viewer’s gaze moves from left of the Posillipo Hills along the Lungomare, where the striking silhouette of Castel dell’Ovo can be seen. Further to the right is the monumental dome of the Basilica di San Francesco di Paola, completed in 1846 and located on the west side of the Piazza del Plebiscito, the largest square in the city. Occupying the centre of the composition is the majestic structure of the Palazzo Reale, then the royal seat of the House of Bourbon-Sicily, and a little further to the right the medieval Castel Nuovo.

In addition to these essential city landmarks the artist has brought out the hustle and bustle of Naples harbour, depicted here as it was before the Stazione Marittima was built at the beginning of the 20th century. Clearly visible are the medieval pier from the time of Angevin rule and the famous lighthouse built by Ferrante of Aragon, which was demolished in the 1930s. Senape has sketched the countless masts of sailing ships anchored close together in the harbour basin with consummate skill and graphic finesse. A steamship a little further to the right is the only witness to a new age. One can well imagine how the artist sketched the panorama in every meticulous detail from a boat in the Gulf – a veritable tour de force and a highly impressive feat of drawing. Around him fishermen in their boats are calmly and systematically hauling in their nets. Senape plays very skil­fully with different spatial levels. In the central foreground, two rowing boats in close proximity serve as a repoussoir, there-­by enhancing the three-dimensional effect. Their occupants, dressed in traditional costume, are chatting or resting from their work while enjoying a pipe. A man in a long coat and hat, seen standing from the back, hands an album to one of the fishermen. Could this be the artist himself? A nice narrative detail is provided by the distinguished couple on the right taking a boat trip. Their attire identifies them as well-to-do citizens: the man is wearing a top hat, while his companion protects herself from the heat with a parasol.

Very little is known of the life of the draughtsman, Antonio Senape, who was born in Rome around 1788 and described him­self as a “disegnatore di paesi con la penna”. After 1815 he was active in southern Italy and subsequently settled in Naples, where he began making a prodigious number of vedute dal vero. These views of city landmarks, often assembled in albums, were made for foreign, often English, travellers and enjoyed increasing popularity in the era of the Bourbon Restoration.

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