George Loring Brown was one of several American artists who made a living painting mementos for Anglo-American tourists visiting Italy in the nineteenth century. Resident in Rome and Florence from 1840 until 1859, he filled his canvases with scenes of the Italian countryside and coastline...
George Loring Brown was one of several American artists who made a living painting mementos for Anglo-American tourists visiting Italy in the nineteenth century. Resident in Rome and Florence from 1840 until 1859, he filled his canvases with scenes of the Italian countryside and coastline [64.455], ancient ruins, colorfully dressed peasants, and other tourist destinations, includingPalermo [62.263] and Venice [69.67]. In 1844, Brown made a trip to Naples, drawn by the reputed beauty of its setting—a graceful shoreline, the Isle of Capri, and Mount Vesuvius—and by its historical associations—remains of Greek settlements, the ruins of Pompeii, and the ghosts of Pliny and Virgil. Like many other artists before him, including Robert Weir [1993.71], Brown painted panoramic views of the Bay of Naples from several vantage points. The Castello dell’Ovo lies on the small rocky island of Megaris, a few hundred feet from shore. Originally the site of a Greek port and later a villa of the Roman patrician Lucius Licinus Lucullus, the first castle on the island had been built by the Normans as a royal residence in the twelfth century. Subsequently, the castle held the Angevin royal treasury, and later still it became an Aragonese military fortification. Along the way, the island was connected to the shore by a causeway, and in the nineteenth century a small fishing village developed around the castle’s eastern wall. The name Castello dell’Ovo (Castle of the Egg) derives from a medieval legend that the Roman poet Virgil, who had stayed on the island in the first century B.C., buried an egg in the ground and predicted that as long as the egg remained intact, no harm would come to the city. Brown allowed the bulk of the castle to occupy the middle of his picture, filling the foreground with colorfullydressed townspeople and fishermen while net-laden fishing vessels struggle against the choppy seas. Brown took liberties with the geography of the Bay of Naples: he included a view of Vesuvius with a plume of smoke emerging from its cone in the right background, but the volcano, actually situated well to the left, would not have been visible in that location. Brown also struggled with scale, as scholar Thomas Leavitt has pointed out: [Block quote] Inconsistency in perspective is especially noticeable in the boats at the far left. There, a vessel not more than fifty yards behind a large ship in the foreground is manned by a crew only one-fourth as tall as the crew of the nearer ship. . . . Relating the scale of isolated objects on large expanses of water remained an unsolved problem for Brown throughout his long career, but it never seemed to disturb either him or the critics.  [/Block quote] Although during his lifetime Brown was known by the soubriquet “Claude Brown” because of his habit of copying the much-admired Italian landscapes of seventeenth-century French painter Claude Lorrain, many of Brown’s compositions reflect the influence of one of his teachers, French painter Eugène Isabey. During a previous trip to Europe in 1832–33, Brown had studied with Isabey, then known for his Romantic coastal views [19.101], storms, and shipwrecks, that were painted with loose brushwork, heavy impasto, and dramatic color accents. Castello dell’Ovo, Bay of Naples was commissioned by George Tiffany, a wealthy Baltimore merchant who played an important role in Brown’s career. When Brown first arrived in Rome in 1840, he made his living by copying old-master paintings purchased by Americans on the Grand Tour. As Brown was making such a copy in a private collection in Rome, he met Tiffany, who admired his work and gave him commissions for original compositions, as well as $1,000, a very welcome subsidy for Brown and his wife who then were living in straitened circumstances. Tiffany’s collection of Brown paintings would eventually include View of the Tiber, with the Castle of St. Angelo and St. Peter’s (location unknown), which was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1844; Pompey’s Tomb (1850, Lee Anderson Collection); and The Ducal Palace, Venice—Moonlight (location unknown), which was exhibited at the American Art-Union in New York in 1846. Brown painted at least one other version of Castello dell’Ovo, a larger canvas in which he included a storm roiling the sea on the left and omitted Mount Vesuvius (location unknown). In 1944, Maxim and Martha Karolik purchased Castello dell’Ovo, Bay of Naples from a New York dealer as part of their collection of works painted by American artists between 1815 and 1865. Mrs. Karolik gave the painting to the MFA in 1947. Notes 1. Thomas W. Leavitt, George Loring Brown: Landscapes of Europe and America, 1834–1880 (Burlington, Vt.: The Robert Hull Fleming Museum, 1973), 11. 2. Phoebe Jacobs, “Diary of an Artist’s Wife: Mrs. George Loring Brown in Italy, 1840–1841,” Archives of American Art Journal 14, no. 1 (1974): 13. 3. Brown’s larger version of Castello del’Ovo was sold at auction at Sotheby’s New York, October 10, 2007, Lot 64. Janet L. Comey
Lower right: G.L. BROWN. NAPLES/1844.; Reverse, before relining: View of the Castello d'Ovo. Bay of Naples. G.L. Brown. 1844. Naples Ital. Painted for Geo. Tiffany Esq. Baltimore
1844, commissioned by George Tiffany, Baltimore; 1940s, art market, Boston; 1944, with Victor Spark, New York; 1944, sold by Victor Spark to Maxim Karolik, Newport, R.I.; 1947, gift of Martha C. (Mrs. Maxim) Karolik to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 12, 1947)
Gift of Martha C. Karolik for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Paintings, 1815–1865