• Interior of the Grotto of Posillipo near Naples

    Artist:
    Desprez, Louis Jean. 1743-1804
    Technique:
    watercolour
    Dimensions:
    69х47 cm

Desprez, Louis Jean. 1743-1804

Interior of the Grotto of Posillipo near Naples

Sweden,

Title:

Interior of the Grotto of Posillipo near Naples

Place:

Material:

Technique:

watercolour

Dimensions:

69х47 cm

Acquisition date:

Entered the Hermitage in 1932

Inventory Number:

ОР-40223

Comment:

The Grotto of Posillipo was created in the time of Emperor August. Such artists as Robert, Fragonard, Clerisseau and others most often represented a vertically elongated entrance into the tunnel, which at that time served as the only connection between Naples and Pozzuoli. In a departure from the tradition, Desprez imagined himself to be inside ‘the grotto’. The artist depicts the tunnel interior, where the only light source is an oil burner suspended on a beam before a small altar in a niche. The flame that seems dazzling in total darkness brings into sharp focus only the central part of the huge corridor over three hundred metres long and from seven to twenty-five metres high. Ghostly reflexes slide over the invented blocks of the cyclopean masonry. Being a theatre designer, Desprez filled his composition with numerous staffage figures: peasants in horse-drawn carts, shepherds with a flock of sheep, kneeling pilgrimages in front of an altar. Long contrasting shadows cast by the travellers’ figures impart some dynamics to this strange and monumental spectacle. The dungeon vault evanesces in the soft semidarkness, with the exit hardly discernible in the distance. The comparison of the given Desprez’s plate with the similar print by Francesco Piranesi (The State Historical Museum, Inv. № VIII-А-4365-г) leaves one in no doubt about the leading role of Desprez, who transformed the objects of serial production into genuine works of art. Fascinated by light effects, as well as the delightful nuances of the grotto’s light and shadow, Piranesi the Younger forgot about the importance of keeping the impression of the verticality of the massive walls of the tunnel. Comments by Valery Shevchenko

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