Turner made a large number of detailed topographical views of the Bay of Naples from different locations. His viewpoint for this study appears to have been a boat on the sea near the Port of Mergellina, looking north-east towards the city and Vesuvius. The drawing depicts the long stretch of the Chiaia waterfront and the gardens of Villa Reale (present-day Villa Comunale), ending at the Pizzafalcone hill and the promontory of Castel dell’Ovo on the right-hand side. The Mole lighthouse is just visible beyond. Rising on the left-hand side of the vista is a hill topped by the Certosa (Charterhouse) of San Martino and the fortress of Castel Sant’Elmo, sloping down towards the dome of Santa Maria degli Angeli in the centre of the composition. The scene is enlivened by a number of small high-prowed rowing boats in the foreground. These are full of figures, some of whom may possibly tourists like Turner. Discernible in the vessel closest to the viewer on the right, for example, is a person lounging in the stern, as well as a standing man operating an oar.
Turner depicted a related view of the Neapolitan coastline in the Gandolfo to Naples sketchbook (Tate D15657; Turner Bequest CLXXXIV 50a), whilst further sketches of the city from the sea can be found in the Naples, Paestum, Rome sketchbook (Tate D15913–D15928; Turner Bequest CLXXXVI 3a–11). His choice of composition is also similar to that of two finished watercolours of Vesuvius erupting, completed prior to his 1819 tour of Italy, Bay of Naples (Vesuvius Angry) circa 1817 (Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, Birkenhead) and Eruption of Vesuvius 1817 (Yale Center for British Art).1 These earlier paintings would have been based upon drawings by other artists, possibly John Robert Cozens (1752–1797) or James Hakewill (1778–1843).2