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Carlo Bonavia (active Naples 1751-1788)
PROPERTY OF A PORTUGUESE GENTLEMAN
Carlo Bonavia (active Naples 1751-1788)

The Bay of Baiae, with elegant figures resting on the shore, with Castello Aragonese in the distance

Details
Carlo Bonavia (active Naples 1751-1788) The Bay of Baiae, with elegant figures resting on the shore, with Castello Aragonese in the distance dated '1758' (lower right) 29¾ x 48¼ in. (75.5 x 122.4 cm.)

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Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair

Lot Essay

Though the details of his life remain scarce, a steadily growing body of work has been attributed to Carlo Bonavia. He has been recognised as one of the more talented and distinguished pupils of Claude-Joseph Vernet, producing capricci and coastal landscapes – of shipwrecks, calms, and harbour scenes – very much in the style of his master. His identified views, such as the present lot, are far fewer in number: this picture shows the bay of Baiae, probably in early morning, as the fishermen bring ashore their catch. An artist, seated in blue in the very centre of the composition, appears to be sketching the scene before us. The sharp details of the figures and buildings in the foreground dissolve into the hazy light of the horizon, all in a characteristically cool, atmospheric palette. The viewpoint is taken from the eastern extreme of the Gulf of Pozzuoli, looking across the bay of Baiae, towards Bacoli, with Capo Miseno beyond; the islands of Ischia and Procida are hidden out of view behind the headland. In the distance, left of centre, is the Castello Aragonese, a fortification that was built at the end of the fifteenth century, at the behest of Alfonso II of Naples, on top of the remains of a Roman villa. The fortress played a strategic role in the subsequent history of the Kingdom of Naples, successively rebuilt, restructured and ruined in the passing centuries. From its position on the headland it witnessed struggles for dominion from the time of the Aragonese kings right through until the Risorgimento; when Bonavia painted the present picture, the city was under the rule of the Bourbons. Following Italian unification, the Castello fell into ruin, before passing into state control. It was used as a prison during the Second World War, before finally finding new purpose as the home of the Museo archeologico dei Campi Flegrei. As the name of the museum indicates, the whole area in view here is of singular archaeological importance: the Phlegrean Fields were a major draw on the Grand Tour trail in the eighteenth century. Pictures were no doubt commissioned to provide for that market, and this particular view was clearly popular: Bonavia himself painted a comparable view of similar dimensions, also dated 1758 (St. Petersburg, Hermitage), with the view taken from closer to the Castello, in front of the Temple of Venus. The same bay was painted by Bonavia’s contemporary Pietro Fabris on more than one occasion too (see for example the picture in Naples, Museo Nazionale di San Martino). And the natural beauty of this particular stretch of the Naples coast continued to have appeal into the nineteenth century, inspiring one of Turner’s great canvases, the romanticised view of the Bay of Baiae, with Apollo and the Sibyl (1823; London, Tate), which looks down towards the Castello from higher ground inland.

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