(AMERSFOORT 1652/53-1736 ROME)
(AMERSFOORT 1652/53-1736 ROME)
(AMERSFOORT 1652/53-1736 ROME)
3 More

The Port of Messina

(AMERSFOORT 1652/53-1736 ROME)
The Port of Messina
signed and dated 'GASP. VAN / WITEL / 1713' (lower centre, on the boat's sail)
oil on canvas
22 3/8 x 43 ¼ in. (56.8 x 109.8 cm.)
Commissioned from the artist in 1712 by Michel-Ange de la Chausse (1660-1724), by whom bequeathed after 7 September 1724 to the following (listed as part of a set of four in his will, dated 1 May 1722: 'quattro quadri di vedute dipinti a oglio in tele di quattro palmi incirca basse dal Cavaliere Gasparo van Withel [sic.] rappresentanti Venezia, Messina, Napoli e Sanpietro di Roma').
The Minims of the Convent of Trinità dei Monti, Rome.
Henry Durlacher (1825-1903), London; Christie's, London, 24 February 1872, lot 129, incorrectly described as 'Naples from the Mola di Gaeta', unsold, and by inheritance to,
Adelaide Durlacher (c.1831-1915), Eastbourne; (†) Christie's, London, 25 June 1915, lot 27, incorrectly described as 'Naples from the Mola di Gaeta', to Jeffries, and by descent to the present owner.
G. Brunel, 'Michel-Ange de La Chausse', Les Fondations Nationales dans la Rome Pontificale. Collection de l'École française de Rome, Rome, 1981, pp. 734-5.
L. Laureati and L. Trezzani, Gaspare Vanvitelli e l'origini del vedutismo, exhibition catalogue, Rome and Venice, 2002-3, p. 46.

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Lot Essay

Gaspare Vanvitelli, or Gaspare degli Occhiali, as he was also known in Italy where he is first recorded in 1675, born Gaspar Adriaansz. van Wittel in Amersfoort, was incontestably the most influential vedutista of his generation in Italy. Like many northern painters he settled in Rome, where he would be based until his death in 1736. Other northern artists had responded to classical buildings in Rome and to the light of the Roman Campagna, but none had been systematically interested in topography. While Claude’s evocations of Italian landscape were informed by his close study of nature, Vanvitelli’s views were developed from the accurate and often very detailed drawings he made on his Italian journeys. By the early 1690s, he had learnt how most effectively to use these, replicating successful compositions as specific patrons or the market at large determined. He clearly understood that his patrons wanted accurate records of the major cities and other sites they had visited, and honed his art to that end. His successful exploitation of the genre was evidently registered by artists in Venice; and had a significant bearing there on the careers of Carlevarijs and Canaletto, and thus indirectly on those of Marieschi, Bellotto and Guardi. Panini in Rome was yet more directly indebted to Vanvitelli’s example.
The following views of Venice and Messina, with others of the Darsena at Naples (fig. 1; sold Sotheby's, London, 10 July 2003, lot 60, £1,909,600) and Rome with St. Peter’s seen from the Vigna di Santo Spirito (fig. 2; sold Sotheby's, London, 10 July 2003, lot 61, £2,021,600), formed part of a set of four commissioned by the French antiquary, Michel-Ange de La Chausse (1660-1724), almost certainly in 1712. The views of Venice and Naples are both dated 1712, and the latter is inscribed: ‘POUR MONSIEUR LE CHEVAL: LA CHAUSSE’, an apparently unique reference to a patron on Vanvitelli’s part.
De La Chausse was born in Paris, but settled in Rome, where he was to die. He served as the French consul in the city and was appointed a cavaliere of the Order of the Madonna Santissima di Monte Carmelo di San Lazzaro. In 1707, he succeeded the painter Charles Poërson as director of the French Academy in Rome, a post of equal prestige and influence. At once a committed scholar and a significant collector of antiquities, he in 1690 published a catalogue of his classical gems, Le Musée Romain, illustrated with engravings by Pietro Sante Bartoli (1615-1700), who had an European reputation for his work of the kind and had lived for a considerable period in Paris, and with a frontispiece reproducing the portrait of him by Carlo Maratta, then the most esteemed painter in Rome. De La Chausse also collaborated with Giovanni Pietro Bellori (1613-1696), now better known for his biographies of Italian artists than for his later studies of classical material, which in some respects anticipated the neo-classical revival of the following century. De La Chausse clearly had a role in helping French visitors to Rome. He issued a second lavish publication, Gemmes Antiques, in 1700 and was a correspondent and friend of the banker-collector Pierre Crozat (1665-1740), whom he may well have assisted on his visit to Rome in 1714 to negotiate the purchase for the Regent, Philippe, duc d’Orléans, of the picture collection of Queen Christina of Sweden, which had previously been offered unsuccessfully to several English noblemen.
De La Chausse married an Italian, Caterina Francesco Savini, but they had no children. The will he drew up on 1 May 1722 shows how carefully he had considered the disposition of his possessions. The set of four Vanvitellis was, with cameos, engraved stones, agates, portrait miniatures and other small works of art, bequeathed to the library of the convent of La Trinità dei Monti (’alla libraria del convent de’ medesimi Reverendi Padri’), whose correcteur general, Bertrando Monsinat was present on 7 September when an inventory was prepared after de La Chausse’s death.
His secretary Francesco Barat was left a pair of smaller views by Vanvitelli of the Arch of Titus and the Grotto at Posilipo, while his successor as consul, Giovanni Michele de Pressiat received a pair of oval views of Tivoli by the artist and other cameos were left to Crozat. The portrait of himself by Maratta was left to Monsinat, which is a further hint of the importance of the convent of the Trinità dei Monti to him. De La Chausse, however, left his library, very appropriately, to S. Luigi dei Francesi, the French church in Rome.

Messina was of huge strategic and economic importance as it effectively controlled the Straits of Messina, separating Sicily from the Calabrian mainland, and was the main point of entry to the island. It had a population of 110,774 in 1606, but, partly as a result of the rebellion of 1674-8 and of plagues, this had contracted to 62,279 in 1681, reducing further to 60,382 in 1714. This picture shows Messina from the south. It is of particular interest as an accurate record of the city before the devastating earthquakes of 1783 and 1908. The most prominent building, towards the right, is the huge tapering Lanterna (lighthouse), designed in 1555 by the Tuscan sculptor, Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, roughly at the middle of the peninsular of San Ranieri. Further on is the Lazzaretto of 1576 and, towards the tip of the peninsular, controlling the entrance to the port is the Forte di San Salvatore by the Bergamask engineer Antonio Ferramolino of 1546, strengthened in 1614. To the left of the Lanterna, surrounded by water, is the Cittadella of 1679-81 designed by Carlo Grunenberg. To the left, on the peninsular, is what survived of the original Viceregal Palace and southern end of the Palazzata, the impressive row of uniform seventeenth-century palazzi, separated at ground floor level by archways, lining the waterfront. The city rises behind this. On the left is the lower south-western section of the city wall, rising to the Bastione di Blasco. Just within the walls, on high ground, is the Santuario di Montalto. Further to the right the baroque tower of S. Annunziata dei Catalani rises above the Palazzata, just to the left of the prominent Romanesque campanile of the Cathedral, destroyed in 1783, to the left of the church itself. A little to the right, and higher up, are the smaller campanile and dome of San Gregorio. Above and to the right of this is the formidable Forte di Matagrifone, the key element in the complex defences of the city. The church behind the right hand section of the Palazzata is S. Giovanni di Malta. Outside the city, hugging the coast, are lesser villages including Pace and, in the distance, the colonnaded church of Santa Maria della Grotta, supposed to be on the site of a Temple of Diana, near the shore.
While Vanvitelli must have been aware of seventeenth-century panoramas of Naples and other Italian cities, his selection of viewpoint for this picture must have been determined by his wish to show both the structures on the peninsular and the buildings of the city itself in a way that clarified the relative positions of these. Midday sunlight penetrating through cloud is used to emphasise the northern section of the Palazzata and the Forte di San Sebastiano. We have no means of knowing what stimulated the artist to execute two versions of the composition in 1713, the year after painting his earliest view of Messina: perhaps he was aware of the enhanced political importance of Sicily as a result of its impending award to the Duke of Savoy, at the expense of the King of Spain, grandson of King Louis XIV whom de La Chausse served as consul. The related picture is identical in width, but only 46 centimetres high. It is topographically identical, shows the same ships, and is signed and dated in the same position: it differs most obviously in its thick band of cloud. This is now owned by the Università di Studi at Messina (Briganti, no. 401).
No document or drawing survives to establish conclusively that Vanvitelli visited Messina; and it has been argued that his view of this from the Borgo San Leo could have been based on a panoramic drawing of Messina from Borgo San Leo by his friend, Filippo Juvarra which in some respects anticipates the painter’s views of the subject (Briganti, nos. 403-4, the latter dated 1720). Giuliano
Briganti believed that Vanvitelli could himself have visited Messina, possibly at the end of his visit to Naples; and given the way that his five views of the city with their interlocking viewpoints offer an accurate and coherent record of this, it would seem very unlikely that he had no direct knowledge of it. It is suggestive that his first views of Messina are of 1712, a year after he was incontestably in Naples, as one of his views of the Darsena (Briganti, no. 353; Turin, Galleria Sabauda) is signed and dated ‘Parthenope 1711’ (cf. L. Trezzani, ‘Gaspare Vanvitelli, il 'pittore di Roma Moderna'', op. cit., 2002-3, p. 41). Of the other compositions, one, The Strait of Messina (Briganti, no. 400), shows the city from the north, with from the left, the Calabrian coast, the Lanterna and, on the extreme right, the campanile of the Cathedral. The Messina from the Colle del Tirone (Briganti, no. 402), shows the city from the north-west, with the northern walls, the campanile, the harbour and the Lanterna, with the mountainous coast of Calabria beyond. The Messina from Borgo San Leo (Briganti, nos. 403-4, the second dated 1720) is taken from further north, with the church of Santa Maria di Gesù Inferiore on the right and the harbour in the centre with the Lanterna, the Palazzata, the campaniles of the Cathedral and San Gregorio and the Rocca Guelfonia with the Calabrian coast on the left. While the Messina from Santa Maria della Grotta (Briganti, nos. 405-6, the former, now at Toulon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, dated 1712; the second associated with a pendant of 1720) shows the city from a point further north and to the east, with on the right the colonnaded church of 1622-39 by Simone Gullì - just visible in the picture under discussion - and a panorama of the city with the major monuments. While it is true that the Castel Sant’ Elmo is a menacing, or reassuring, presence in three of Vanvitelli’s Neapolitan compositions, Messina was the only city of which he painted five interlocking views.
While the visitor to Venice can still see the city very much as Vanvitelli did, its position on a seismic fault line means that this is not the case with Messina. Of the buildings visible in this picture the Lanterna has been substantially reconstructed and the Forte di San Sebastiano partly survives, but the peninsular has been largely developed and the scanty remains of the Cittadella are surrounded by industrial buildings; the ground to the left of the Lanterna is now occupied by the Instituto di Biologia Marina and the railway station; nothing now survives of the former Viceregal Palace. The Palazzata, which gave such distinction to the town, has gone and been replaced by buildings in differing styles. The city walls and the Forte di Matagrifone have been destroyed. Both the Cathedral and its campanile were reconstructed after the 1908 earthquake, though the latter echoes its original form. A few buildings survived, including S. Annunziata dei Catalani, because of the solidity of its Romanesque underlying structure: it has been relieved of later accretions including the modest campanile recorded by Vanvitelli. Virtually the whole of the centre of the town was comprehensively destroyed in the 1908 earthquake, as harrowing photographs of the time document. And as the author of the Touring Club Italiano’s Sicilia fairly observed, the expansion of the city has been characterised by a ‘caotica aggressione’. The great gain of recent years has been the development of the exemplary Museo Regionale.

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