Antonio Senape

(Rome, 1788 - Naples, after 1842)

View of Naples

Pencil, pen and brown and black ink, on four sheet of paper

282 x 1518 mm (11.10 x 59.76 inches)

  • Reference Number: 0090
  • Iscriptions: Panorama di Napoli preso da una finestra di S. Martino disegnata dal vero da Ant. Senape Romano 1834
  • Price: Private collection

Antonio Senape is one of the most prolific Italian "vedutisti" from the first half of the 1800's. While there is a great quantity of his drawings there is very little known about his life: his art is not mentioned in biographys and has been studied very little even in monographs on nineteenth century landscape painting. His year of birth, 1788, is from a document from 1815 that was found recently where Senape himself declares to be 27 years old and a resident of Rome. That he lived to the 1850s is certain from the many paintings he did of buildings constructed at that time. In one of his pictures of the Gulf of Naples you can see the Napoli-Portici railway line that was inaugurated in 1839.
One of the first in depth studies on Antonio Senape was written in 1988, in the occasion of a show of his work held in Rome. Together with another show in Naples at the end of 2006 dedicated to the Campi Flegrei, there have been other updates on this interesting yet mysterious artist who was a protagonist on the nineteenth century landscape painting scene.
Help in reconstructing some moments of the artist's life comes from the numerous inscriptions that he wrote on his drawings, that indicate the place, his name, the address where he was living at the time and sometimes even the date in which he did the drawing. This was a habit amongst contemporary gouache artists and it seems that it was in some way useful in the selling of the works.
Senape himself informs us of his work as a restorer and as of a teacher of "disegno con la penna", pen and ink drawing, as we can read from an inscription inside one of his albums. Probably his pupils were tourists who liked the landscapes he had done. Probably teaching was a sideline as he was already quite busy doing "vedute" on commission.
While he was born in Rome, Senape felt closer to Naples, even though he lived and painted all over Italy and all the way to Switzerland. A precious witness to his travels is an album of over 100 original drawings, the most important collection of his work found to date and almost certainly the product of a long Grand Tour done as part of the entourage of a particularly fastidious client. This collection of landscapes, that was in a collection in California until 2001, is extremely interesting: in 1930 in was shown at the Huntington Institution in San Marino, California attributed to Joseph Mallord William Turner, an improbable ascription but one, as we will see, that is not without some interesting comparisons.
The Panorama of Naples is immediately characterised by its extraordinary dimensions, which, in length, are over a meter and a half. The landscape is composed of four sheets of paper in which the city is illustrated in its entirety, complete with the Vesuvius puffing in the background. The viewpoint from which it was done- without a doubt a rare visual document of exceptional completeness- is from a window in the Certosa di San Martino: as usual the artist communicates the details of how the work was done through a long inscription on the right which gives details of the place, date and of the fact that the drawing was done "dal vero". Some scholars have suggested that the artist may have used special optical instruments, possible a prospectograph, which was necessary when doing such wide panoramas. This theory has been confirmed by the precision of the buildings shown, rich in details that are perceivable even though they are shown outside of the foreground.
Following a tradition that was codified during the course of the XVIIIth century, Antonio Senape decided to portray Naples from the Certosa di San Martino, located on the Vomero hill and counted amongst the most important monuments of the city. Among the buildings that are clearly visible there's the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in the Pizzofalcone area, almost at the edge of the right margin of the third foglio form the left. On the same foglio there's the famous Piazza del Plebiscito with the Palazzo Reale and the church of San Francesco di Paola, with its majestic cupola that was completed in 1824. The second foglio from the left shows the famous Maschio Angioino, or Castel Nuovo, whose strong walls tower above the city. Only in the background do you see the Gulf of Naples up to the Sorrento and Capri.
Senape did several versions of the same subject some of which are today in the Museo Nazionale di San Martino, works that are similar to this drawing in their size. Another Panorama of Naples also done on four foglio later reunited has the same composition. Even though the inscription does not include a date, it is at any rate datable to 1833. Both of these drawings show Senape's distinctive style, his ability to make bi-chrome compositions just by modulating the tonality and quantity of ink depending on the distance of the object portrayed. Two tones of color, brown and black, are utilised to show respectively the foreground and the background until they fade into the landscape in the distance. As you can tell from observing the many landscape drawings by this artist, the foreground of the compositions is almost always dedicated to the illustration of naturalistic elements, trees and plants that act almost as the wings of a theatre. In the Panorama of Naples dated 1834 this role is played by two architectural elements that delimitate the visual field on both sides and, at the same time, are used by Senape as proof of his talent for drawing "dal vero". The left side, in fact, is enclosed by a realistic drawing of an external wall of the Certosa di San Martino on which there is a small balcony that would have been clearly visible to the artist as he worked from a window of that building.
The practice of using fronds of vegetation to create a kind of theatrical frame nears Antonio Senape to Turner, who was just about his age. The two Maestri are characterized by different ways of conceiving landscape painting; the English painter concentrated mainly on light and color. Nevertheless affinities between the two are clear: both are artists of panoramas where the passage between various levels of their works happens gradually and delicately, as if the tonalities in the foreground gradually dissolved until they finally disappear in the distance. In Turner's work, space was created by color, while Senape created volume and shape using the contrast between lines of ink ably dosed. Turner too was attracted by Naples and left a vast number of sketches and studies dedicated to this area, done during his travels in Italy. In one of these rich collections there is a drawing of Naples done looking towards the sea, also done from the Vomero hill and dated 1819: this is one of the images that most clearly exemplifies the vicinity of these two nineteenth century landscape painters.


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