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The Beacon-Tower


CAT 127. E. Radclyffe after Claude Lorrain. The Beacon-Tower. From the Picture in the Royal Collection. Published in the Art-Journal, 1861. E. Bart Chapin Jr. Family Collection.

This is another Claudean seaport that Melville would have seen at Windsor Castle in 1849. It was still thought to be a painting by Claude when E. Radclyffe engraved it for the Art-Journal in 1861, but in 1961 Roethlisberger classified this Coast View among “The Most Notable Imitations” of paintings by Claude (Paintings, no. 296.2). His primary reason for doing so was that the “the picture type is itself a combination, foreign to Claude, of a harbour scene, a coast view, and a landscape with a cluster of trees” (p. 542). The commentator in the Art-Journal had objected to the painting on a similar basis a century earlier, declaring that Claude sometimes “transplants to the water-side objects which scarcely could exist there.” The result in this case is a painting that appears to be “a combination of materials gathered from various sources: . . . on the left is a ruinous temple;  . . . on the right, in the extreme distance, is a range or rock, on the summit of which is an extensive castle . . .; in the middle distance is a pharos, or watch-tower, used also as a lighthouse to guide mariners into the harbour; . . . on the shore, in the foreground, are several figures, whose business or occupation is not easy to define.  The composition is very judiciously arranged, but the charm of the painting is in the soft glow of morning sunshine which is thrown over the scene” (“The Beacon Tower,” 182).

Melville would have had no difficulty recognizing the Beacon Tower for which this print was named among the mélange of large objects by which it was surrounded. Nor did he need the commentator in The Art-Journal to explain that the “pharos, or watch-tower” in the middle distance of the image was “also used as a lighthouse to guide mariners into the harbour” of whatever coastal port this print was presumed to depict. Melville had not only seen such a “beacon tower” in Genoa on a Sunday afternoon in April 1857; he had climbed all the way up to its viewing platform “300 feet high.” There he had enjoyed the “superb view” of the “sea coast to the south” before turning around to see “all Genoa” at the foot of the mountains whose heavy “fortifications” reached all the way up into the “rolling clouds” (NN J 123). Completed in 1543, that tower still stands proudly in Genoa today, as can be seen from the photo from 2007 we posted as CAT 110, fig. 5.

This Claudean seaport scene lacks the pictorial unity and the solar atmosphere of the other three seaports in this section, but I can imagine Melville pointing to its “beacon tower” lighthouse as an adjunct to his color lithograph of the Bay of Naples when relating a few highlights of his travels in Italy to his young granddaughter Eleanor (see CAT 120). Whether the oil painting in the Royal Collection had been painted by Claude Lorrain or some “Most Notable” imitator, and whether or not Melville at the end of his life would have remembered having seen that painting among its “cheerlessly damnatory fine” companions during his one visit to Windsor Castle in 1849, one glance at the beacon tower in his copy of Radclyffe’s 1861 engraving would have brought back the muscle memory from the day in 1857 on which he had climbed all the way to the top of the pharos that had already towered over the Genoan coastline for nearly one hundred years by the time Claude Lorrain was becoming one of Italy’s leading landscape painters.

A slightly different view of the beacon tower at the center of Melville’s print is below. Here we see the engraving of a different painting of the same subject by an entirely different engraver. François Vivares published A View Near Naples in 1769. His print presents the scene seen in the Radclyffe image in reverse. This print also renders that scene much more clearly, even though Vivares was engraving in copper and Radclyffe in steel (fig. 1).

cat 126 fig 1.jpg

Figure 1. François Vivares after Claude Lorrain. A View near Naples. Engraved from the Original Picture in the Collection of Robert Ledger. London: F. Vivares, July 1769.

One reason for the greater clarity in the above print is that Vivares was reproducing the original painting from the seventeenth century, now lost, of which painting at Windsor Castle was an inferior eighteenth-century copy. Another reason is that Vivares engraved his image on a large folio sheet of premium paper for a limited audience whereas Radclyffe engraved his in smaller dimensions for much larger-circulation in a monthly journal. Roethlisberger identifies the lost painting engraved by Vivares simply as Harbour Scene; he does not mention the title A View Near Naples that appears on the print itself. He does suggest that “the date of 1665 mentioned on the engraving” may have been the date of the painting Vivares engraved, presumably by an imitator of Claude (Paintings, no. 291.1, fig. 346). The Royal Collection Trust currently identifies the painting at Windsor Castle as A Harbour, suggesting that it is “a copy, probably dating from the 18th century, of Claude’s Port Scene of c. 1633” (“A Harbour”). A date of 1633 would make the original painting by Claude one of his early harbor paintings, when he was in the first stages of putting his own stamp on everything that the Italian cities along the Mediterranean coast offered to An Artist Studying from Nature (in title of his 1839 coastal scene we have reproduced as figure 1 in the introduction to this section).

One of the uncertainties surrounding the actual subject of The Beacon Tower that Radclyffe engraved in 1861 from the painting at Windsor Castle, which is itself probably an eighteenth-century copy of the seventeeth-century painting by Claude or an imitator that was engraved in reverse by Vivares in 1769, is resolved by the following paintings of the port of Naples (figs. 2, 3).

CAT 126 fig 2 Tavola Strozzi View of Naples 1472 wikipedia.jpg

Figure 2. Attributed to Franceso Rosselli. Tavola Strozzi, View of the City of Naples in Italy from the Sea in 1470, 1472. Museo di San Martino, Naples, Italy.

The above View of Naples from the Sea was painted in 1472, twenty years before Christopher Columbus, a native of Genoa, sailed from Spain to discover a New World. The Castel Nuovo, at the center left on the shore, is a masterpiece in Catalan-Majorcan-Gothic style on which construction had begun in 1453. Directly in front of it in the bay is the lighthouse at the center of Radclyffe’s Beacon Tower that had also been at the center of Vivares’s A View of Naples. The two engravings depict the lighthouse from the inner harbor looking out toward the Castel Nuovo rather than from out in the Bay (the details of perspective are much clearer in the Vivares engraving even though the image is reversed). Any lingering questions of perspective and locale are resolved by Gaspar van Wittel’s painting The Darsena, Naples, currently on loan to the Museo Nacional Thyseen-Bornemisza in Madrid (fig. 3).

CAT 126 fig 3 Gaspar van Wittel The Darsensa, Naples 1710-18 Thyssen-Bornemisza.jpg

Figure 3. Gaspar van Wittel. The Darsena, Naples, oil on canvas, ca. 1700-1718. Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on loan at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

Gaspar van Wittel (1652/53-1736) was a Dutch painter resident in Naples who specialized in painting one subject, The Darsena (the dockyard). He painted the above scene more than a dozen times between 1710 and 1718, moving the ships and figures around like stage props. The side of the dock in the foreground, like the shore in in many of Claude’s seaport scenes, anchors the architecture of the paintings. The inner harbor of this dockyard, entered from the bay at the far right, protected large ships from the hazards of the sea while they were being unloaded or repaired. From this perspective, the Castel Nuovo is always at the far right on the other side of the dockyard, with the city’s signature lighthouse too far out beyond the right margin of the painting to be seen (in contrast to its central position in the engravings by Vivares and Radcliffe whose perspective opens more broadly out toward the open bay). You can see the future locale of van Wittel’s beloved dockyard in the painting of Naples in 1470, to the left of Castel Nuovo directly inland from the lighthouse.

The above paintings from out in the sea and in on the shore provide enough evidence to show that Vivares was correct in naming the 1769 print of the painting he attributed to Claude Lorrain A View near Naples. Whether Melville know it or not, his copy of Radclyffe’s 1861 engraving of The Beacon Tower derived from an interior harbor scene painted by Claude or an imitator two hundred years earlier along the same sweeping shoreline depicted in his own copy of Read’s 1860 color lithograph of the Bay of Naples (CAT 120). Melville actually had a hint that Naples may have been the harbor depicted in The Beacon Tower in the essay that accompanied his copy of Floyd’s engraving of Claude’s The Sea-Port from The Art-Journal in 1859 (CAT 126). That essay devoted more space Claude’s biography than to the engraving itself, mentioning that Claude had been resident in Naples for two years when studying there with Godfrey de Waal, from whom he acquired “a proficiency in the knowledge of perspective, and applying it successfully to his architectural paintings” (“The Sea-Port,” 182). This period of study in Naples was confirmed in the copy Melville acquired of the biography and critical study of Claude that Owen Dullea published in New York in 1887 (Sealts no. 192). Dullea identified Gottfried Waels as the landscape painter from Cologne with whom young Claude “made some progress in architecture, perspective, and mysteries of color” during two years of study in Naples (3-4).

Beyond whatever technical skills young Claude may have absorbed from Gottfried Waels in Naples, Roethlisberger, writing in 1961, stresses the “lasting significance” of the impressions made on the young painter by the Neapolitan “sunrise and sunset, the coast, the harbor, and the shipping.” He also notes that the lost painting from which Earlom had engraved Claude’s View of a Sea-Port during a Sun-Set (CAT 124) was “apparently dated Naples 1636” (Paintings, pp. 9, 34n6, 106; LV 6). It seems likely that the View near Naples that Vivares engraved in 1769 was a view that Claude had actually seen from the shoreline looking out toward the lighthouse and Castle Nuovo, with the classical façade near the shoreline and the castle on the cliff in the far distance inserted to display the knowledge of perspective and architecture he had acquired during his residence in Naples, much like the fully realized castle to the immediate right of the harbor scene in An Artist Studying from Nature from 1639 (fig. 1 in the introduction to this “Four Seaports” section).

Melville’s own residence in Naples in February 1857 reveals considerable familiarity with the section of the city depicted in his 1861 print of The Beacon Tower and, with much more clarity, in Vivares’s 1769 print of A View in Naples. Much, of course, had changed in the city since Claude or a “Most Notable” imitator had painted the original canvas two hundred years earlier. But the Castel Nuovo was still the primary landmark along that section of the city’s shoreline (as it is today). Immediately adjacent to it was the Royal Palace, as seen in van Wittel’s painting of The Darsena, Naples immediately above. In 1857, those two buildings were the military and political fortress of King Ferdinand II of Spain, the “Bomba” whose oppressive occupation of the pervades not only the journal Melville kept when visiting the city but the poem “An Afternoon in Naples in the time of Bomba” that he was still revising at the time of his death thirty-four years later. The Hotel Geneva at which Melville resided was a short walk from the Castle Nuovo, the Royal Palace, and the inner harbor they bordered. During his first exploratory walk in the city he noted “Palace—soldiers—music—clang arms all over the city. Burst of troops from archway. Cannon posted inwards. Royal carriages in palace.” Apart from the military mobilization, little was going on in the harbor itself. “Quays show little commerce. Wonder how live here.” Two days later, after returning to his hotel from a ride up the hillside to the Cathedral of St. Januarius, he walked “on the mole,” the pier stretching directly out into the bay from the Castel Nuovo, again noting “military continually about streets” (NN J 101, 103).

Melville’s color lithograph of The Bay of Naples (CAT 120) shows us the stunning sidelong view of the city and its curving shoreline that Melville savored on two different occasions as he stood on the hillside of Posilipo and looked all the way across the Bay to Vesuvius and the hills that slope down toward Sorrento (a vista that is still the iconic view of Naples today). But that image does not show us the view of the city Melville would have enjoyed from out in the bay as the steamship from Messina brought him up to the pier on the morning he arrived. Some of what he saw was already apparent in Strozzi’s View of Naples in 1472. There you see the Castel Nuovo anchoring the pier that extended straight out into Bay then as it would in 1857 and does still today. The imposing structure at the top of the highest mountain in Stozzi’s painting the Castel Elmo and its adjacent Church of San Martino that Melville visited in 1857 and that still crown Mount Volmero today. If you follow the curve of that mountain down to the right in Strozzi’s painting, you will see a frontal view of the distinctive façade of the Cathedral of St. Januarius, painted in a gray matching that of the Castel Nuovo (fig. 4).

CAT 126 fig 4 Facade of Naples Catedral.jpg

Figure 4. Main Façade, Naples Cathedral (Duomo de Napoli). Built between 1299 and 1314.

This façade stands out much more clearly in Strozzi's painting than it can today—or could have done in 1857—because in 1472 it marked the top edge of the city as it rose up the adjacent hill known as Capo di Monte. The Cathedral of St. Januarius of Melville's day is known more generally as the Cathedral (Duomo) of Naples today. In the 1630s when Claude was beginning to paint some of his landscapes and harbor scenes while residing in Naples, Domenichino was in the middle of the longest and largest commission he had ever received in his long career as a painter of religious, mythological, and pastoral subjects, the ten-year project of planning and executing frescoes and altarpieces throughout the Royal Treasury of the Cathedral of St. Januarius, which Melville considered to be “very fine” during his visit to the Cathedral (NN J 102, 103). Domenichino had begun this mammoth project in 1631, completing most but not all of it by the time of his death in 1641 (see CAT 112, fig. 6). We will return to Claude in relation to Domenichino in a later section of this chapter.

The commentator on Radclyffe’s engraving of The Beacon Tower after Claude’s painting at Windsor Castle in the 1861 issue of The Art-Journal began by citing an English author who claimed that Claude Lorrain, “upwards of two centuries” after his birth, still “stands alone, pre-eminent in excellence, the admired of all beholders.” The rest of the commentary used the perceived weaknesses of The Beacon-Tower and other paintings attributed to Claude (including the Europa that had been “engraved in a previous number” of The Art-Journal; see CAT 131) to reverse that assertion. The commentor argued instead that “beyond all in this or any other country stands Turner, by many degrees the grandest painter of scenery that the world ever saw, towering above the men of every age and clime in magnificence of pictorial display, beauty, and richness of expression and poetical feeling, as loftily as Homer, Shakespeare, and Milton are raised above their fellows” (182).

How much had changed since Turner’s death a mere ten years earlier in 1851! So influential had been Ruskin’s scathing critique of Claude in the early volumes of Modern Painters that any discussion of Claude now seemed subordinate to the glorification of Turner. Melville had published his own fictional tribute to the power of Turner’s late seascapes in Ishmael’s encounter with the painting in the Spouter-Inn in Moby-Dick two months before Turner died (Wallace, Melville and Turner, pp. 318-30). But Melville seems to have felt no need to elevate Turner by denigrating Claude. Neither did Turner himself, as seen in the terms of his bequest to the National Gallery. The copy of A View near Naples that Vivares engraved in 1769 that was sold in London in 2021 came from the library of Dawson Turner (1775-1858), a close friend and associate of J. M. W. Turner throughout his entire career as a painter of landscapes and seascapes (“Printed Books, Maps & Documents”). As we will see in chapter 7, Melville was to acquire two separate engravings after Turner’s most Claudean landscape, The Golden Bough (CAT numbers to be assigned).

Turner exhibited The Golden Bough at the Royal Academy in 1834; Robert Vernon acquired the painting in 1847. Melville presumably saw the painting in 1849 when he visited the Vernon Collection, which was already housed in the National Gallery (see fig. 5 below). T. A. Prior published one of the engravings Melville acquired of this work in 1851, the year Turner died. J. T. Willmore published the second engraving in 1856, the year the Turner Bequest was accepted by the National Gallery. Melville would have seen Turner's original painting for a second time when he visited “the Vernon & Turner galleries” at the National Gallery in April 1857, two months after the day trip from Naples during which he had travelled beyond Posilipo up the coast to the Bay of Baia and Lake Avernus, the site of Turner’s Golden Bough, inspired by the descent into the underworld depicted by Virgil in the Aeneid (NN J 43, 104, 128). On the left side of Turner's painting, the Sybil displays the golden bough that would allow Aeneas passage into the underworld to see the ghost of his father.

CAT 126 fig 4 Turner The Golden Bough Tate Gallery N00371.jpg

Figure 5. J. M. W. Turner. The Golden Bough, oil on canvas, 1834. Acquired by Robert Vernon, 1847. Exhibited as part of the Vernon Collection in association with the National Gallery until being officially acquired by the Tate Gallery in 1955.

When Melville visited Lake Avernus and its “lonely old temple” on February 23, 1857, and was taken by a guide by torchlight down into the “infernal regions” of the “fabled” Cave of Sybil, he felt no charm in the experience, asking instead: “What in God’s name were such places made for, & why. Surely man is a strange animal. Diving into the bowels fo the earth rather than building up towards the sky” (NN J 104). The surviving manuscript of “An Afternoon in Naples in the Time of Bomba” begins with this epigraph:

The world of fact and the world of Art are two.
The only aim of Art is beauty. (NN BBO 177).