Naples and Vesuvius on the Grand Tour
Through March 24, 2002
At the Getty Research Institute Exhibition Gallery
Press Preview: Tuesday, February 5, 2002, 9-11 a.m.
Los Angeles--A new Getty Research Institute exhibition, Naples and Vesuvius on the Grand Tour, examines Naples as an important tourist destination during the period that Sir William Hamilton served as British ambassador to Naples, 1764 to 1800. The exhibition is on view through March 24, 2002, in the Research Institute's Exhibition Gallery.
Naples and Vesuvius on the Grand Tour is the first of a trio of exhibitions to open at the Getty Center highlighting the Getty collections and focusing on the Grand Tour, followed by Rome on the Grand Tour (through August 11, 2002), and Drawing Italy in the Age of the Grand Tour (February 5-May 12, 2002), both opening at the J. Paul Getty Museum. These exhibitions explore a tradition in which young, 18th-century European (mainly British) aristocrats traveled across Europe to reach Italy. There at the center of the classical past, they sought sources of the culture in which they had been educated, and manifested this quest in their travels by collecting art and commissioning new works from local artists.
"The Grand Tour was a socialized practice of travel that focused on the arts as a means of bestowing knowledge and moral virtue upon young men from the nobility and upper gentry," says Thomas Crow, director of the Getty Research Institute. "All three Getty exhibitions consider a ritual intended to shape personal, intellectual, and civic identity. The Research Institute exhibition examines one particular collector's passion and influence within this tradition."
Naples in the 18th Century
In the 18th century, Naples was one of Europe's great cities. Nestled in the Gulf of Naples on the western coast of the Italian peninsula, the city featured Italy's largest opera house, and spectacular vistas of the bay and Mount Vesuvius. Naples was considered by tourists to be a stimulating diversion from the ponderous history and splendor of Rome. South of Naples, tourists saw the newly excavated remains of Herculaneum and Pompeii, ancient Roman cities buried by lava in the first century A.D. "The volcanic landscape and ancient ruins made Naples an exotic locale for travelers whose principal destination was Rome," says Marcia Reed, exhibition curator and head of collection development, Getty Research Institute.
Hamilton in Naples
Sir William Hamilton was the British ambassador to Naples, residing there from 1764 to 1800. As a child, Hamilton had been close to the future King George III. When Hamilton came to Naples as a member of England's foreign service, his involvement in English society offered social connections to wealthy visitors on the Grand Tour and alliances to foreign courts. A genial host and knowledgeable guide to the city, he invited distinguished guests to his home for musical performances, conversations on cultural subjects, and theatrical interpretations of antique subjects by his second wife, Emma Hart. Hamilton's personal interests were perfectly matched to the Italian setting. With great foresight he realized the value of publications and prints to promote the region and to provide a surrogate experience of Naples for those who were unable to travel.
In early maps and views Vesuvius is central and monumental. Tiny towns cluster below the volcano, vulnerable in the paths of lava flows. For Hamilton, Mount Vesuvius was like a gigantic and beautiful curiosity that could only be collected in physical specimens or in reproductions such as paintings and prints. In the latter part of the century the volcano was active, and Hamilton led expeditions of hardy travelers to the rim. A serious amateur scientist, he published his observations of the volcano and helped his guests to identify the fragments they collected.
Highlights of the Exhibition
Naples and Vesuvius on the Grand Tour takes Hamilton's time in Naples as a theme around which to examine the practices and experiences of travelers on the Grand Tour. The exhibition features the first color-plate books in the history of art, Hamilton's four volumes on his vase collection. The books were carefully crafted to combine art and history. As illustrated books and graphic works, they were intended to be collections themselves, just as "paper museums" or prints were prized as art in collectors' cabinets. Hamilton's elegant folios were inspired by the Roman graphic works of Giovanni Battista Piranesi as well as by the publications of private collections and early museums. By the time he returned to England in 1800, Hamilton had published two of the four illustrated catalogues of ancient vases and several smaller works on antiquities and Mount Vesuvius.
Also on view are striking hand-colored etchings by Pietro Fabris that depict the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius and the fiery fields of the Campi Phlegraei. In The Eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 9, 1779, Fabris dramatically records the spectacular views that drew 18th-century travelers to the region to sketch and to collect rocks, shells, and antique fragments found on the path of the flowing lava.
"The vase and the volcano are reciprocal symbols," says Reed. "As containers of past knowledge and illustrations of artistic production, vases preserve the surviving examples of ancient painting. By contrast, volcanoes are destructive forces. Their beautiful but lethal eruptions obliterate and yet, at the same time preserve evidence of past cultures."
Niccolò Carletti's enormous engraved map and panorama of Naples (measuring approximately 8 1/2 by 15 feet) charts the city's intense urban development in the mid-18th century. The map documents the city's changing fabric, identifying buildings and naming streets. Its decorative composition emphasizes the region's mythic origins and the powerful presence of the sea, framing the city with fantastic creatures and ancient ruins. Many of the views feature travelers' names, their heraldry and dedications placed among the ancient ruins and artifacts as Vesuvius looms in the distance.
In addition, the exhibition features a number of related rare books, prints, maps, and several characteristic types of souvenirs. A peepshow unfolds to depict favorite Neapolitan vistas, and a set of plaster casts held in book-like boxes reproduces precious gems and works of art from Neapolitan collections.
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