Vanvitelli first visited Naples in 1700, at the invitation of the Viceroy Don Luis de la Cerda, Duke of Medinaceli. The Duke had gained a reputation as a patron of the arts, and had met Vanvitelli in his previous appointment as Spanish ambassador at the court of Pope Innocent XII in Rome. He was appointed Viceroy in 1695 and may have intended Vanvitelli's views to record the ambitious building projects that he planned for Naples.
Vanvitelli executed a large number of views of Naples, in all media, but by far his most popular viewpoint was the quay of the Darsena delle galere, the harbour for galleys built in 1688 by the Viceroy Pedro of Aragon below the walls of the Castel Nuovo. At least nineteen views of the Darsena are known, which can be divided into two groups. The first group consists of fourteen vedute, of relatively large size, which place Capodimonte in the central section of the horizon, G. Briganti, Gaspar van Wittel, Milan, 1996, nos. 345-6, 348-51, 353-361. The compositions of the second group are, by contrast, centred on the Castel Nuovo and show only a portion of the port with the quay in the foreground. This last group consists of only three large pictures, in addition to the present tempera: one in the Museo di San Martino, another of very similar composition at Holkham Hall and a third, a slightly wider view, in a private collection in Rome, G. Briganti, op. cit., nos. 347, 352, 349. While pictures of the first group were painted over a period of 22 years, from 1700 to 1722, the second group are dated respectively 1702, 1711 and 1703. The composition of the views in Naples, at Holkham Hall and in the present work show only minor differences, mainly in the forground and in the arrangement of the boats. In addition, the pictures in Naples and Rome, and this tempera, depict the scene with the afternoon light coming from the sea, similar to many of the pictures in the first group. In the Holkham Hall picture the light comes from the left.
The technique of tempera used in the present work is rare in Vanvitelli's oeuvre. It allowed the artist to produce compositions of much smaller size, but with the same level of refinement as his much larger works. Two further views in tempera were sold at Sotheby's London, 2 July 1997, lots 51-2. These more delicate pictures were probably made for private collectors or Grand Tourists.
A drawing of the Darsena in black chalk, pen and brown ink, and watercolour, is in the Museo di San Martino in Naples, G. Briganti, op. cit., no. D239.