Antonio Senape e i luoghi della Sirena; brochure of an exhibition curated by P.A.De Rosa and P.E. Trastulli, Roma 1998;
Vedute Napoletane della Fondazione Maurizio e Isabella Alisio, ed. Giancarlo Alisio and Nicola Spinosa, Naples 2001 cat. n.81.
In this interesting drawing, which we might describe as a panorama, Senape offers us a superb view of Naples see from the sea, in his typically dry, calligraphic style.
The city is depicted in minute detail in a style typical of later 18th century views, yet here that style is enriched with elements closer to the taste that was being developed by the School of Posillipo in those years.
Despite the absence of colour typical of Senape's calligraphic work, the drawing conveys the full freshness and vitality of Naples in the first half of the 19th century, when it was already a very vibrant and densely inhabited city.
Starting far left, the eye perceives the entire sea front of Naples from Posillipo, and the Castel dell'Ovo may also be made out on the left. Equally recognisable is the large dome of the Basilica of San Francesco di Paola, completed in 1846 (making that year the terminus post quem for dating the drawing) and which totally renewed what has since become one of Naples' most celebrated squares, known today as the Piazza del Plebiscito. Beside it we can also discern the smaller dome of the Nunziatella, while along from it our eye alights on the unmistakable and majestic silhouette of the Palazzo Reale in the centre of the drawing.
The star of the picture, however, is without question the port of Naples, which has always been the main gateway into the city. It is shown here as it was before the Stazione Marittima was built in the early years of the 20th century. Thus we can see the Molo Angioino quay with the Maschio Angioino keep and the famous lighthouse built by Ferrante d'Aragona (Ferdinand I of Naples). Commonly known as the "lantern on the quay" and figuring in numerous old views of Naples, the lighthouse was destroyed in the 1930s. On the right, our gaze travels along the whole of Via Marina before reaching the foothills of Mount Vesuvius.
In the centre of the view, the city is dominated by the still partially lush green hill of Vomero, the brooding mass of Castel Sant'Elmo and the Carthusian Certosa di San Martino convent.
We can imagine that, in order to depict the city in its entirety, the artist must have taken up a position on board a boat in the middle of the gulf, amid the fishermen shown hard at work in the foreground in their typical early 19th century costume, a picturesque addition intended to breathe life into the scene.
It was already a tradition in the 19th century for aristocrats and the wealthier bourgeoisie to go on boat trips in the gulf, and indeed on the right we can see a small boat with a boatman, seen from behind, steering the prow towards the shore, his passengers a man in full formal dress with a top hat, seated opposed an elegant lady holding a parasol.