This composition shows the annual procession of the King of Naples to the sanctuary of Saint Maria di Piedigrotta, beside the celebrated Roman tunnel on the road between Naples and Pozzuoli. The ceremony was one of the major festivities in the Neapolitan year. The King and Queen and their attendants travelled in a series of carriages to the sanctuary, which was the object of particular popular devotion. The King, who wears the red sash of the Order of San Gennaro, is in the carriage that has just passed the central building. To illustrate the procession, which filled the Chaija from end to end, it was necessary to adjust the angle of the perspective, so that the composition shows not only Pizzafalcone and the heart of Naples, with Vesuvius behind, on the left, but also the coast to Posilipo on the right: Capri is as a result compressed between the Cape of Posilipo and the Sorrentine peninsula in the distance.
While it might be thought that the view was devised for a single panorama, such as this canvas, the definitive version of the composition is generally thought to be the large pair in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, which measure 76 by 128 cm. each (N. Spinosa, Pittura napoletana del Settecento, Naples, 1998, no. 285, figs. 382-3; N. Spinosa and L. Di Mauro, Vedute napoletane del settecento, Naples, 1989, no. 77, figs. 74 and 75) and are dated to circa 1770 by Spinosa (1987). A smaller pair, measuring 49.5 by 77.5 cm., are in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch at Bowhill: these belong to the celebrated series of vedute, including works by Joli, Marieschi, the youthful Guardi and the Master of the Langmatt Foundation Views, that were obtained by John, Earl Brudenell, later Marquess of Monthermer, during his grand tour of 1757-9. A further version of the left-hand composition, measuring 53.5 by 98.5 cm., which no doubt originally had a pendant, is in the Museo di San Martino at Naples (Spinosa and Di Mauro, op. cit., no. 77, pl. 43; A. Middione, Antonio Joli, Soncino, 1995, no. 37). It seems possible - although on grounds of scale the claims of the present canvas should also be considered - that this corresponds with 'A grand view of the city and bay of Naples, with Mount Vesuvius in the distance' included in the posthumous sale of Brudenell's tutor and companion in Italy, Henry Lyte, at Christie's, 9 March 1792, lot 65 (14 gns. to Poggi): Lyte also owned a view of Dresden (lot 17, 5 gns.) and a 'Grand view of the city and bay of Naples' (lot 111, 12 gns.), hypothetically the companion.
While the San Martino picture corresponds very closely with the left hand of the pair at Vienna, the design is in some respects simplified in the present panorama: the central building is somewhat altered and the figures lining the processional route press in less closely on the procession, while there are many fewer boats. Joli, who had practised as a painter of theatrical scenery and as a decorator, was well aware of the demand for topographical views, and supplied numerous replicas of many of his most successful designs, particularly after his London sojourn in the 1740s. The extent to which he called on workshop assistance in replicas and variants like this canvas has not been clearly established, but, while its large scale means that the execution is less meticulous than in some of the small works from the Brudenell series, the animation of such details as the procession demonstrates his personal intervention. It is likely to be a relatively late work, but the previous suggestions that it is of circa 1762 cannot be substantiated.
In addition to the pictures of the subject which Joli supplied, a number of derivations by other hands are recorded. A pair of copies by an unidentified follower are in the Museo di San Martino (see Middione, loc. cit.). A panorama from an angle further to the left signed by Pietro Antoniani is in a Roman private collection (Spinosa and Di Mauro, op. cit., no. 94, pl. 31): the sense of spacing on either side of the procession suggests that his point de dpart may well have been the present work rather than the Vienna pair. A further picture by Fabris is in the Uffizi.