J.W. Carmichael's natural affinity for the sea and his skill in depicting fine architectural detail combine perfectly within this work to form a spectacular panorama of Naples Bay at its most cosmopolitan. With a large Algerian xebec dominating the foreground, and the waters of the bay teeming with small local merchant craft to indicate the importance of Naples as an ancient crossroads of trade, the presence of an apparently British naval frigate running into port also alludes to its notable strategic location.
The natural harbour afforded by the bay could accommodate the largest of naval squadrons and Naples had been a frequent port of call for ships of the Royal Navy ever since Lord Nelson took his fleet there to revictual after his victory at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Nelson's affection for Naples was largely due to the presence of Emma Hamilton but when he became embroiled in Neapolitan politics, to the extent that he evacuated the Royal Family prior to a French invasion that December, the bond between England and the Kingdom of Naples was sealed to last into modern times. With the navy assured of a warm welcome whenever a British ship or squadron anchored in the bay, Naples became an increasingly popular destination for English visitors throughout the nineteenth century.
Intriguingly, there is no record that Carmichael ever visited Naples even though its coastal location and outstanding natural beauty would have made it an obvious choice. He certainly journeyed to many other European cities between 1835 and 1845 and is known to have produced numerous "on the spot" sketches at that time, some of which were later worked up into finished oils. It seems highly probable therefore that he did indeed visit Naples during that decade of travel and the existence of a similar though smaller work (dated 1863) to that offered here only serves to strengthen the belief that both were the eventual result of an earlier sketching trip.