The panoramas of the Russian painters who loved Naples

by Federico Quagliuolo

Naples was the muse of an entire generation of Russian painters who, from the distant motherland, arrived on the Chiaia beaches to admire and paint the views of the Gulf: the Moon that lights up the shoulders of Vesuvius is a timeless spectacle, which still today we all photograph with mobile phones and, two centuries ago, attracted painters from all over Europe.

However, the ties between two so distant worlds have been very close for centuries. First thanks to the alliance between the Two Sicilies and Russia, then with the fascination it exercised Capri on Lenin and the Russian intellectuals.
More generally, Italy, which is the cradle of the ancient world, was one coveted destination by Russian painters, who have always been in love with classical culture.

Ivan Konstantinovič Ajvazovskij and the sea of Naples

The Black Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea have something in common, even if they are more than 3000km away. Otherwise, the similar suggestions and emotions that they aroused in the artists who visited their respective lands cannot be explained: if the Neapolitan Eduardo Capurro, wrote 'O my sun as the sun set over the Black Sea, and a few years earlier another Neapolitan founded Odessa in the same place, from nearby Crimea the painter Ajvazovskij left for Naples in search of new landscapes. And he fell in love with the views of the Gulf, which he painted with intensity and affection, as if it were the very sea of his distant land.

Ajvazovskij was a painter born in Russia, but of Armenian origins: in 1840 he decided to tour the whole of Europe in search of new inspirations and, after a long journey, he settled in Naples for a year. And it did so well in town that he came back three more times in subsequent years.

During his Neapolitan period, he also decided to explore Castellammare di Stabia, Ischia and Capri, destinations loved by all Russian painters in Naples.

“Here it is impossible not to paint: now there is an enchanting moon, now the sun sets on the sumptuous Naples. I can't let them pass without paying attention to them! "

Ajvazovskij, letter to the Academy of Fine Arts

Then in London he met the painter Turner that, in front of the picture “Sea at night in Naples“, He was so excited that he wrote a poem on the spot which he dedicated to his Russian colleague.

Silvestr Ščedrin: see Naples and then die

St.Pietroburgo, than with the architect Carlo Rossi has more than a few links with Naples, it was the hometown of one of the Russian painters they have linked their entire life to the Neapolitan lands: the journey of the very young Ščedrin began with a one-way ticket to Southern Italy: as soon as he won a scholarship to the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, he decided to leave for Naples and remained here until his death in 1844.
Initially the trip was supposed to end in Rome with four other fellow painters but, once he arrived in Italy, Ščedrin decided to stay in the Bel Paese to live with the proceeds of his works. And he moved to Naples, in which he remained enchanted by the sea just like his contemporary Ajvazovsky.
The relationship with the Neapolitans, however, was not at first idyllic: the painter himself wrote that he did not like the cadenza of the Neapolitan, because "it seems that they are all crying or making a noise at each other“.

However, Ščedrin's life was very short: he died in Sorrento at the age of 39 due to a fever. Many say he was so in love with the pleasures of the meat and food of Naples to lead a completely dissolute life. And precisely his crazy days, without rules and without timetables, in which he spent whole nights painting and whole days in the company of women, was the cause of some lethal disease.
In short, it was really the case to say it: see Naples and then die.
What is certain is that his Neapolitan period was livelier and richer moment in his artistic production.

His paintings, apart from a few rare exceptions present in the Neapolitan and Sorrento art galleries, are all present in private collections of Russian magnates in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Lev Lagorio: among the Russian painters in Naples, the lover of Sorrento

Lagorio is also linked to that Crimea, which was so much a friend of the ancient Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. And the bonds intensify even more when it is discovered that his father, of Genoese origins, was vice consul in the Crimea on behalf of the Neapolitan monarchy.

He arrived on the shores of the Gulf around 1850 and his stay in Naples was very short. But no less intense: he was enchanted by the views of Sorrento and decided to settle in the Sorrento peninsula for 7 years, recounting the daily events of the inhabitants with dozens of fairly successful paintings. He returned to St. Petersburg in 1959, after the death of Ferdinand II: he was worried about the turn that the political events were taking that would, shortly thereafter, lead toUnification of Italy.

Karl Pavlovič Bryullov, the painter of emotions

Russian painters Naples Pompeii
The last days of Pompeii, kept in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg

One of the most popular Russian painters in the part of the world where the Cyrillic alphabet is spoken: Briullov, like his colleagues, came to Naples after living for a long time in Rome.
His style was completely different from other Russian painters in Naples: what struck Briullov's heart, imagination and eyes were the faces of humans. And all of his paintings are colorful emotions on canvas. So much so that his most famous painting, The last days of Pompeii, he painted it after a visit to the excavations of the ancient Roman city.
It is said that after seeing the ruins of ancient Rome and after being in Pompeii, the painter is fell into depression because he realized that a lifetime would not be enough for him to see all the wonders of the ancient world present in Italy.
His painting dedicated to Pompeii it was a success: he exhibited it on a tour that began in Naples and passed through Milan, Paris, London and Moscow.

The connections between cultures become even more dense if Sicily is also involved: in fact in Palermo there is a very famous statue of Valerio Villareale, nicknamed "the Sicilian Canova", inspired by a scene from Brjullov's painting.

The panoramas of the Russian painters who loved Naples
“Woman picking grapes near Naples”, St. Petersburg


Napoli Russa, Aleksej Kara-Murza, Sandro Teti Editore, 2005

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