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Oil on canvas
Monogrammed "SR" (note 1) on the fountain, bottom middle
Salvator Rosa was born in Naples in 1615 and died in Rome in 1673, aged 57. His apprenticeship took place in the studio of the artist Falcone, a painter of battle scenes. Rosa helped Falcone to paint some of these scenes, thus enabling him to progress. At the beginning of the 17th century, Naples had a population of 300,000, making it the second largest city in Europe after Paris. Thanks to its geographical location, Naples was a major trading centre at that time.
In 1631, Vesuvius erupted. The young Rosa must have experienced this dramatic episode, since he left for Rome in 1634 and returned briefly to his native city in 1636. Numerous trips back and forth between Florence, Rome and Naples from 1639 onwards mark Rosa's painting and make it possible to delineate his pictorial developments. For example, between 1639 and 1649, his painting still remains close to the naturalist vision of his master Falcone. However, we note a rapprochement with the Roman bamboccianti artists, themselves inspired by the Dutch artists then present in Rome.
In our painting, the presence of fumaroles and cooled lava are visible in black traces on the slopes of the volcano and testify to a recent eruption. The eruption of Vesuvius began on 16 December 1631 and ended around 31 January 1632. It was a Plinian eruption which, in terms of death, destruction and power, was the largest since 79 AD. It marked the end of a period of rest for the volcano of about sixty years and the return to a more sustained activity. The human toll was high, with 4,000 deaths and 6,000 head of livestock lost.
The populations that had time to flee the event were not always well received. Contrary to what the numerous engravings of the time show, the Neapolitans mainly prevented their passage and defended the access to the city. Indeed, the city of Naples was itself affected by the fallout of ash transformed by the rain into mud.
The eruptive phase, which lasted all day on 17 December 1631, left a transformed landscape that the inhabitants discovered on the morning of 18 December. Vesuvius had lost 168 metres in height and the diameter of its crater had increased from 600 to 1,600 metres. The slopes of the volcano are now devoid of any vegetation, which was burnt, and covered with ash and lava. The topography of the entire coastline of the Bay of Naples has been altered. Indeed, several towns and villages were destroyed.
Many of Salvator Rosa's paintings take a view from the bottom of a valley. He liked to include figures, usually a small group of soldiers, here isolated in the foreground. They are busy playing or chatting, adding to the liveliness of the painting.
Rosa was a landscape painter who, even in his time, was already well known.
The Florentine art historian Filippo Baldinucci (1625-1697) considered him artistically superior to the French painter Gaspard Dughet (1615-1675). With the latter, Rosa never had a good relationship: they seemed to be in competition. Dughet had a larger circle of patrons and financial support than Rosa. Jealousy was therefore the order of the day. Here we cannot speak of a collaborative work, although there are certain points that bring them together. We can mention the type of landscape, the treatment of the sky and the vegetation.
We can logically deduce that this is an early work by Salvator Rosa, painted around 1632-1633.
It is an exceptional painting for two reasons: Salvator Rosa's early works are rare and the depiction of Naples with the still active Vesuvius is unique.
Note1: The monogram "SR" invisible under the oxidized varnish and the old repaints appeared after cleaning and removal of the repaints.