Misattributed painting resurfaces as important work by one of the greatest Italian scenic painters

A painting that was miscatalogued 50 years ago has been found to be by one of the greatest Italian scenic painters in history. Research by Chorley’s auctioneers has confirmed that a stunning view of Naples in oil is by the renowned painter Antonio Joli (1700-1777). The painting’s former owner purchased the painting at a house sale in Gloucestershire in the mid-1960’s. The work was catalogued as being by the French painter Dominic Serres, but after purchasing it, he thought it might actually be by Antonio Joli. Over 55 years later, thanks to extensive research and authentication, his hunch has been proved right.

Celebrated for his sweeping views for theatrical sets, Antonio Joli was unique in his encapsulations of his beautiful surroundings. The most well-travelled of all scenic painters of the period, Joli was very keen to capture the true-life vision of where he was, while celebrating the essence of the beauty of the various environs he found himself in. This appealed to a global audience as he was in effect creating a large-scale postcard, making him as relevant today as he was then.

Thomas Jenner-Fust, Director of Chorley’s stated: “We are delighted to bring this painting by Antonio Joli back to market after 50 years. Joli worked in London, Spain, Italy and Germany and received international acclaim, as well as being a founding member of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia. The view of Naples depicted is intricately detailed in its portrayal of ships and architecture and showcases the city during its golden age.”

The painting will be offered in Chorley’s sale of Fine Jewellery & Silver, Old Masters, British & European Art on Tuesday 27th June 2023.

Joli’s global appeal could well be due to his ability to transport the viewer to the scene with great detail and accuracy. Born in Modena he was an apprentice to the 17th century Italian Old Master painter Rafaello Rinaldi and also worked with the Galli da Bibbiena family of scene painters who created vistas and settings for operas and Royal courts around Europe. In Rome it is believed he trained with Giovanni Paolo Panini, a painter of architectural capricci and Vedute. He then took up posts a theatrical stage painter in Modena, working for the Duke of Modena. Here he painted many views of the city, influenced by Canaletto amongst others. In 1732 in Venice his true creative potential was realised. He delighted audiences with his stunning vistas for opera productions at both the `Teatro san Samuele of the Grimali family and the Teatro di san Giovanni Grisostomo. Following this he moved to Dresden in 1742 and on to London between 1744-48. Next stop was Madrid where he remained from 1749-54.

While in London he decorated the Richmond mansion of John James Heidegger who was the Director of the King’s Theatre in Haymarket at the time. In Madrid Joli worked for Charles III of Spain, painting scenes for the Royal Palace outside Madrid, the Coliseo at Buen Retiro and at the smaller opera house at the Palace at Aranjuez. As well as his theatre scene paintings, Joli was also commended for his large-size paintings of stunning views. Among them several portrayals of the Esquandra del Tajo, the fleet of Royal barges and other vessels out on the river Tajo at Aranjuez.

He returned to Venice in 1754 and was a founding member out of 36 of the Academia di Belle Art di Venezia (The Academy of Fine Arts of Venice). In 1761 he moved to the Bourbon court of Naples and was employed as painter to the King in the Court Theatre. He died there in 1777.

This particular painting by Joli titled A View of Naples from Mergellina encapsulates Naples in its heyday, where music and painting flourished and it relished in being the Royal capital of the richest Italian state. Tourism was at its height and Joli enjoyed creating his magnificent views of the city and environs for wealthy visitors on a Grand Tour and for fellow residents such as the British diplomat, archaeologist and antiques collector Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803).

The painting showcases the bay of Naples in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, with the heart of the city seen from the West. Near the left edge is the Torretta of Chiaia or of Piedigrotta, built in 1564 as a defence against Turkish raids. Just beyond it is one of the fountains established along the shore between the Castel dell'Ovo and Posillipo by Luís de la Cerda Fernández de Córdoba Folch de Cardona y Aragón, 9th Duque de Medinaceli (1660-1711), Viceroy of Naples 1692-1706.l Beyond that the Riviera di Chiaia stretches to Pizzofalcone and the Castel dell'Ovo off the point. The city is overlooked by the imposing walls of the Castel Sant'Elmo, built by the Aragonese Viceroy Don Pedro de Toledo in 1537-47, on the Vomero Hill behind to the left. Immediately below it to the right is the Certosa di San Martino, the great Carthusian monastery, on whose expansion Cosimo Fanzago worked for thirty-three years in the mid-seventeenth Century. This magnificent work carries an estimate of £50,000- £70,000

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