Here is a delightful watercolor by the Italian Old Master Xavier (or Saverio) Della Gatta, dating perhaps to about 1785, portraying everyday life around Naples. It is far more detailed and expressive than many of his other works. Unlike his simpler costume studies of individuals or pairs of people, it shows us numerous characters and it bustles with activity and local charm. It’s precisely the kind of artwork that travelers would want to take back home to remember their time in Italy.
In the scene, a couple of vintners are having a jolly foot-stomping time up in the large vat as they crush the grapes into juice, and their labor isn’t done yet because a serving girl is bringing more grapes along in a basket on her head. A helper pours the juice through a funnel into one of the barrels on the donkey’s back. A weary Capuchin is resting on the street, with his lunch basket next to him on the ground, and he’s having a chat with the children of the woman who pours the grape juice. Nestled in among all this activity, the family dog looks on attentively. It is titled along the bottom, “La Carita del Vino che richevona li Cappuccini,” which is in the old Naples dialect and in rough translation is “The charity of the wine that the Capuchins receive.” (In modern Italian, “La carità del vino che i cappuccini ricevono.”) It seems to say that the Neapolitans who are cultivating wine for the monks are doing them a charitable deed. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for the rich to pay to supply wine for members of religious orders, with the expectation that the members of the orders would pray for their donors’ needs.
Della Gatta was born September 8, 1758, in Lecce Nei Marsi, Italy, east of Rome, and died in 1828. His artistic career began sometime around 1777. He excelled in topical views of Neapolitan residents going about their daily activities, as well as in local landscapes, views of the countryside, nearby Mount Vesuvius and locations around the Bay of Naples. As one of the best known figures in the popular medium of gouache painting in 18th-century Naples, Della Gatta worked both for the court and for tourists visiting Italy on their Grand Tour. In 1782 King Ferdinand IV appointed him, along with fellow artist Alessandro d'Anna, to travel throughout the realm and make a record of all the regional costumes. (As a side note, in the world of porcelain, the decoration on the Servizio delle Vestiture del Regno made by the Naples Royal Porcelain Factory is largely based on the works of these two artists, and later Stefano Santucci.) Della Gatta continued working for the court throughout his career.
This watercolor was one of a set of thirteen by Della Gatta in the collection of nineteenth-century entrepreneur Henry George Bohn, who was a bookseller, publisher, art dealer and collector. He sold artwork to the British Museum and many other institutions. In 1864 he retired from his business, but continued to collect, buy and sell until his death. This watercolor hung in his Twickenham residence, North End House in London, until 1885, when it was sold with all his other paintings and prints at a Christie’s sale on March 23. Pieces from his collection have ended up in museums and collections all over the world. This watercolor is mentioned on page 94 of Bohn’s catalog of his collection of artworks, which was nearing completion when he died and was published by his son.
The paper size is eight and one-half by ten and one-half inches. The image size is six inches by eight and one-half. I am selling this original gouache without the frame it came in, but if you want the frame I will include it. It has some surface damage, as shown, and the glass has a reverse-painted black and gold outline around the edges that unfortunately covers the inscription at the bottom, as you can see in the photo. Better framing (without the reverse painting) would expose the title at the bottom, and in fact the image itself has a painted frame at the edges, so there’s no need for the reverse-painted frame on the glass. It does need to be matted because of imperfections in the gray background. The image is in excellent condition.
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