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The Grotto at Posillipo (Naples)
Vanvitelli, Gaspare
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Vanvitelli, Gaspare

Amersfoort (Netherlands), 1652 - Rome (Italy), 1736

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The Grotto at Posillipo (Naples)

First third of the XVIII century. Oil on canvas. Not on display

Gaspare Vanvitelli is unanimously considered the founder of the eighteenth-century urban veduta, which was based on close observation of views and drawing from life, including scenes of everyday events and contemporary society. Born in Holland, where he was known as Gaspar van Wittel, Vanvitelli was a disciple of still-life and landscape painter Matthias Withoos in Utrecht, one of the Dutch cities most marked by Italian culture. He moved to Italy in 1674, living in Rome, Naples and Venice, where he painted the first views in oil.

The grotto at Posillipo (Naples), early eighteenth century, depicts the entrance to the wellknown Seiano Grotto in Posillipo, a 700-metre Roman tunnel built by Marcus Cocceius Nerva in 37 AD. In this veduta its height (14 metres) and narrowness are skilfully contrasted with the small figures. The Seiano Grotto linked Naples to Pozzuoli and to the volcanic Phlegrean Fields, where Virgil set his oracle of the famous Sybil of Cumae. In the painting, the legendary tomb of the poet (Virgil) appears here at the top of the mountain. Because this popular area of Naples was regularly visited by foreigners on their Grand Tour, alongside the noblemen and villagers Vanvitelli depicts a group of elegant travellers reading the inscription on a monument, crowned with the royal coat of arms, that commemorates successive improvements to the grotto made by Alphonse V of Aragon, King of Naples between 1442 and 1458, and Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Zúñiga, Spanish viceroy of that city between 1532 and 1553. The poetic atmosphere of these two paintings (The grotto at Posillipo and The Villa Martinelli and the Palace of the Duke of Aquale in Posillipo) reflects the period’s literary perception of Italian landscapes described by poets such as Virgil. Travellers compared the places they visited with their descriptions in classical literature, idealising them as loci amoeni. Views of the Seiano Grotto were much in demand among Vanvitelli’s clients, which explains why there are eleven surviving versions of this scene (Maurer, G. en: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 250).

Technical data

Inventory number
Vanvitelli, Gaspare
The Grotto at Posillipo (Naples)
First third of the XVIII century
Height: 32 cm.; Width: 37 cm.
Colección León Adolfo Laffitte
León Adolfo Laffitte Maurin (1809-1876); by inheritance to Xavier Laffitte y Charlesteguy; donated by the latter to the Museo del Prado, 1930

Bibliography +

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Urrea Fernández, Jesús, La pintura italiana del siglo XVIII en España, Secretariado de Publicaciones de la Universidad, Valladolid, 1977, pp. 404.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 763.

Luna, Juan José, Pintura europea del siglo XVIII: guía, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1997, pp. 105.

España en el Mediterráneo: la construcción del espacio, Ministerio de Fomento, Madrid, 2006.

Maurer, G., Goya: lo bello y lo recóndito. En: La belleza encerrada: de Fra Angelico a Fortuny, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2013, pp. 310.

Mena Marqués, M.; Albarrán, V., La belleza encerrada: de Fra Angelico a Fortuny, folleto, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2013, pp. 41 n.179.

Maurer, G, Gaspare Vanvitelli 'The Villa Martinelli and the Palace of the Duke of Aquale in Posilipo' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 250.

Prado captive beauty: treasures from the Prado Museum, Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, 2015, pp. n.60.

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 1531.
Autor, Vitelli / 1531. Asunto, la gruta de Polisipo (Nápoles) / Lienzo, 32 x 37 cmts. / Nº catálogo, 2463 / Legado por don Xavier Laffitte en 1930...

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1933. Núm. 2463.

Inscriptions +

Scrap of paper. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

Captive Beauty. Treasures from The Prado Museum
10.10.2015 - 31.01.2016

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

Captive Beauty. Fra Angelico to Fortuny
21.05.2013 - 10.11.2013

Antonio Joli, View of Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony at the Arch of Trajan in Benevento
10.11.2011 - 30.04.2012

España en el Mediterráneo. La construcción del pasado
14.12.2006 - 11.03.2007

Displayed objects +


Golden Fleece

Beast of burden


Update date: 25-10-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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