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To the west of Naples lies the steep coastline of Posillipo, an area of outstanding natural beauty which since Roman times had been a popular residential district and resort. Turner’s drawing depicts villas along the start of the Posillipo shore, looking south-west from a point near the port of Mergellina.1 In the bottom right-hand corner of the sheet is a small separate outline study of the island of Capri, as seen from Posillipo.
The principal focus of the main view is two large shoreline villas. To the right is the seventeenth-century Palazzo della Rocella (present-day Villa Chierchia), whilst the building left of centre is the Palazzo Donn’Anna (also historically known as the Palace of Queen Joanna), a seventeenth-century palace built upon the remains of an earlier villa for the wife of the Spanish viceroy, Anna Carafa. When her husband left her to return to Spain in 1644, the unfinished palace was abandoned and neglected. The evocative, melancholy aura of the site was further heightened by a legend associated with Queen Giovanna II of D’Anjou (Joan or Joanna II), who is said to have entertained her lovers here before throwing them into the sea to their deaths. The grand but decaying building projecting directly into the sea presented an irresistible Neapolitan subject for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists and there are many paintings featuring this part of the coast.2 Further sketches of the Palazzo Donn’Anna can also be seen on other pages from this sketchbook (D16092; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 5), whilst for the Palazzo della Rocella see the Naples, Paestum, Rome sketchbook (Tate D16063; Turner Bequest CLXXXVI 78).
For British visitors the attractions of Posillipo and the Palazzo Donn’Anna were heightened by the nearby presence of the Villa Emma, a small casino which had belonged to the antiquarian and diplomat, Sir William Hamilton (1731–1803), ambassador to the King of Naples (1764–1800) and husband of the celebrated beauty, Emma. The villa is just out of sight in Turner’s drawing but could be found on the beach to the immediate right of the Palazzo Donn’Anna, and appears in a number of topographical views dating from the late eighteenth century.3 Turner himself has copied a view of the casino and shoreline after John ‘Warwick’ Smith (1749–1831) in the Italian Guide Book sketchbook (see Tate D13969; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 20a, third from bottom right).4
Compare a virtually identical watercolour view by Giovanni Battista Lusieri (circa 1755–1821), Napoli. La costa di Posillipo (Fondazione Maurizio e Isabella Alisio, Naples), reproduced in Giuseppe Marcenaro and Piero Boragina, Viaggio in Italia: Un corteo magico dal Cinquecento al Novecento, exhibition catalogue, Palazzo Ducale, Genoa 2001, no.25, p.219.
See for example Pietro Fabris (active 1754–1804), The Procession of Royal Ships at Palazzo Donn’Anna (private collection), Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe Ducros (1747–1810), Posillipo seen from Palazzo Donn’Anna, Naples (Museum of San Martino), and Francis Towne (1739–1816), The Palazzo Donn’Anna (British Museum, London), all reproduced in Giuliano Briganti, Nicola Spinosa and Lindsay Stainton, In the Shadow of Vesuvius: Views of Naples from Baroque to Romanticism 1631–1830, exhibition catalogue, Accademia Italiana delle Arti e delle Arti Applicate, London 1990, pp.79, 89, 91.
For example William Pars (1742–1782), Sir William Hamilton’s Casino at Posillipo and the Ruins of the Palace of Queen Joan circa 1780 (Government Art Collection). See also Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan, Vases & Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and his Collection, British Museum, London 1996, under no.17, pp.130–1, and under no.23, pp.137–8.
See Jenkins and Sloan 1996, fig.71, p.170.