Franz Ludwig Catel (1778 – 1856) “View from Castellammare to the Gulf of Naples and Mount Vesuvius” ca. 1818-1819 Watercolor and gouache, over traces of black chalk, on wove paper. Thaw Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Photography by Steven H. Crossot, 2014.
Franz Ludwig Catel was a German painter, but launched his career and spent most of his life working in Rome. Catel’s works depicted the Italian landscapes, now idealized by centuries of artists. During Catel’s lifetime, Western civilization was captivated by ideals and aesthetics of the Enlightenment and Neoclassicism. Artists and academics were drawn to nature as well as the ancient world for exploration and inspiration.
In the early 18th century, the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were discovered after centuries buried under layers of volcanic rock, generating international interest and intrigue. Pompeii and Herculaneum were located in the Bay of Naples in Southern Italy, and they were completely covered by the eruption of the volcano, Mount Vesuvius, in 79 AD. The volcanic ash and lava filled these cities and preserved the buildings, artifacts and people who lived there. Once discovered, the archeological digs uncovered an entire world of ancient Roman treasures and resources. This new-found wealth of knowledge spread rapidly throughout Europe garnering curiosity from the artistic and academic communities alike. Before these findings, the ancient world was reduced to myth and ruins, but with these miraculous discoveries, questions of the ancient world could be answered and proof of their life and existence could be seen for the first time. This dramatically changed the way in which people understood and experienced the world around them.
People traveled from all over Europe to view the recently uncovered sites in Southern Italy and Greece. It became a tradition, and a rite of passage for many wealthy, upper-class gentlemen to travel on The Grand Tour. Inspired by the ideals of the European Enlightenment, people looked to the ancient world as the foundation for Western civilization, and the epitome of wisdom and beauty. Traveling to the ancient sites for both education and pleasure showed true dedication to culture and refinement. Inspired by the possibilities of capturing the never-before-seen sites, artists would travel to document the ancient architecture and the Italian landscapes. Wealthy travelers on The Grand Tour would commission artists, and buy paintings or sketches of the ancient sites, as mementos of their journey and symbols of their connections to classical antiquity. These sketches are the earliest images that we have of these ancient sites, still widely appreciated and collected today.
Franz Ludwig Catel’s “View from Castellammare to the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius” depicts the complexity and beauty of this Italian landscape during Catel’s second trip to Naples. Located just outside of Pompeii, Castellammare is another beautiful coastal town with views of Mount Vesuvius looming over the city from every angle. In his drawing Catel depicts a medieval structure surrounded by bystanders on winding pathways through foliage, and Mount Vesuvius sits behind a body of water in the background. The architectural, fortress-like building takes a passive role in this scene and nature takes on the active role, encompassing the page. Catel uses a more commanding brush stroke and more saturated hues with the verdant trees and well-trod pathways, and a delicate touch and lighter hues with the architectural edifices. The stark contrast between the man-made structures and the natural foliage serves as a reminder of the power nature has over human-kind. Framed by both the architecture and trees, Mount Vesuvius takes center stage as the ultimate force of nature. Although the lines and colors are soft and faded, the volcano looks ever powerful and resolute. The bystanders walk peacefully through the countryside undisturbed with Mount Vesuvius in the background. The dominating presence of Mount Vesuvius serves as a bittersweet reminder of that tragic event that destroyed entire cities, and yet preserved a plethora of history for us today.
Franz Ludwig Catel’s “View from Castellammare to the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius,” along with many other works in the exhibition, The Lure of Nature: Landscape Drawings from the Thaw Collection, remind us of the artists’ continued interest in the ancient world and their desire to travel and paint the observable outdoors. Many images on display depict landscapes with ancient Greek and Roman edifices off in the distance, often romanticized or idealized.
The Lure of Nature: Landscape Drawings from the Thaw Collection is on view through from August 25th through October 15th. Don’t miss the lunchtime Art Express tour on September 6 from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. and Curator Jennifer Tonkovich’s lecture on September 12 at 5:30 p.m.
This exhibition is made possible by The Morgan Library & Museum, New York,
with additional support generously provided by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust.
This exhibition is generously supported by the Arthur E. and Hilda C. Landers Charitable Trust.
—Julianne Levin, Mitchell Gallery Summer Intern