Trained in his native Amersfoort by the still-life painter Matthias Withoos, whom he followed to Hoorn in 1672, Van Wittel moved to Italy soon after, in 1674, where he would become known among his fellow Bentvueghels(the society of Dutch and Flemish artists in Rome) as ‘De Toorts’ (The Torch) (see R. Roos et al., Maestro Van Wittel. Dutch Master of the Italian Cityscape, exhib. cat., Amersfoort, Kunsthal Kade Amersfoort, 2019). He would go on to flourish there as a pioneering vedutista, bringing with him the distinct quality, attention to detail and observational powers of Dutch landscape painters of the Golden Age. Most of Van Wittel’s time in Italy, where he became known as Vanvitelli, would be spent in Rome, although he did make visits to Northern Italy, Venice and Naples in 1700-1701.
The present view of Naples, which is a prime example of the artist’s work in bodycolor, shows the Riviera di Chiaia, with Mergellina and Posillipo in the background. To the left is a baroque fountain which stood on the road along the waterfront from the Castel dell’Ovo to Posillipo. Giuliano Briganti has suggested that the tower to the right could be the Torretta di Chiaia or the Torretta di Piedigrotta which was built in 1564 to defend the city from invasion by the Turks (Gaspar van Wittel, Milan, 1997, pp. 270-271). Further to the right, Santa Maria di Piedigrotta and the Strada di Pozzuoli can be observed, all rendered with the precision for which Van Wittel was famous.
Both Van Wittel’s drawn and painted vedutewere in great demand from his international clientèle, not least among British Grand Tourists. The present view must have been particularly popular as it is known in eight versions; the only other one that is also executed in bodycolor on panel is now in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel (Briganti, op. cit., no. 378, ill.), while the other six are executed in oil (ibid., nos. 375-377 and 379-380; and Sotheby’s, New York, 28 January 2016, lot 311). The view in Kassel is dated 1713 and the others are dated between 1710 and 1722. The present drawing was previously paired with a view of Rome (fig. 1; formerly Sotheby’s, London, 2 July 1997, lot 52), as is the version in Kassel, also dated 1713, leaving little room for doubt over the date of execution of the present lot.