Gasparo Vanvitelli (in the
Italianized version of his name) was the father of the
great Neapolitan architect Luigi
Vanvitelli. Van Wittel was born in Amersfoort in
The Netherlands and trained there; he then moved to
Rome, where he spent most of his life. He was in
Naples in 1700 and 1701. Generally, he is known for
those topographical views that came to be known as vedute
(views). He has a number of important works done in
Rome and a few in Naples. Stylistically, they are
remarkable for their precision and descriptive detail;
indeed, the next best thing to photography, if there
had been such in 1700. His View of the
Naples Darsena [pier], shown here, was done in
1702 and is currently in the collection of the San
Martino museum in Naples.
This painting is of the old harbor and pier of the Naples Arsenale, the naval shipyards at water's edge below the Royal Palace, the large red structure at center-left. The Royal Palace is still the original 1600 configuration by architect Domenico Fontana and not the expanded version from the mid-1700s by this painter's very son, Luigi Vanvitelli. The long cream-colored building on the left at the water is the ship-building facility, the arsenale, itself. The white building at the center was incorporated into the premises of the expanded Royal Palace. Much of the rest is almost identical to what it is today. The arches right of center still stand and support a path from the gardens of the Royal Palace to the grounds of the Maschio Angioino, the fortress on the right. The white portion on the western side of the Maschio Angioino today houses the Parthenope University. The detail of the fortress is precise, showing the difference between the older and original Angevin section (the small white chapel and adjacent arches) and the newer and larger Spanish portions (most of the rest of the fortress, including the towers). The detail of the ships is also precise, including the triangular lateen-rigged vessel in the center.
There is now a modern road that runs along the entire port, but the view is still very recognizable today. The arsenale building is gone, and some of the water on the western (left) side of the harbor was filled in by the urban renewal of the risanamento in 1900. There is, however, the newer small port of Molosiglio approximately where the left half of the aresenale building is in this painting. Although land-fill construction has moved the water's edge out (towards you, the observer) some distance, most of the harbor in the painting is still intact as a small Coast Guard harbor, still separated, as it is in the painting, from the port area directly in front of the Maschio Angioino, an area that today serves as the hydrofoil and ferry pier.
[See also: this additional
painting by van Wittel of the Chiaia section of
Naples from 1701.]