AN INTERIOR VIEW FROM THE CHAPEL OF ARAGON ACROSS THE CHOIR TO THE FRENCH CHAPEL, ST JOHN'S CO CATHEDRAL, VALLETTA
Signed l.l., bears late inscription to backboard Gabriel Carelli
Pencil with watercolour & sepia washes
35.5 x 24.5 cm
The present work dates from the artist's trip to Malta, Sicily and further East in 1839. The trip may have been sponsored by the Duke of Devonshire, Gabriele's first patron (he had been introduced to the Duke by his father Rafaelle, also an artist); or the Duke could also have purchased works from it later, after the younger Carelli's stay at Chatsworth in 1847. A number of sketches and watercolours from this trip of 1839 remain in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth, kept in "Album No.5, Carelli's Sketches, 1839, Sicily & the East". A more panoramic and characteristically vivid view from a slightly different perspective can be found through the following link:
https://www.watercolourworld.org/painting/untitled-tww014465 [last accessed 16/01/2020]
The present work is more finely rendered than that above. This precision of detail is particularly suited to the ornate monument to Nicolas Cotoner i d'Olesa of Aragon (1608-1680), 61st Prince and Grand Master of the Knights of the Order of Malta. The monument was sculpted by the Italian Domenico Guidi (1625-1701), a well-known sculptor of the Baroque tradition who also completed commissions for the King of France. It has been pointed out that the slaves at the base of the sculpture are almost direct copies of those on Pietro Tacca's Monument of the Four Moors (1626) in Livorno. This would have been appropriate, as the slaves at the base of that statue symbolise the Ottomans over which Ferdinand I had triumphed. The Ottomans were the ever-present foe of the Order of Malta, and Cotoner significantly improved Malta’s fortifications.
The tomb was commissioned by the Knights in Malta but constructed in Italy; rather amusingly, when it arrived in Valletta it became clear that the 'Angel Blower's' trumpet was too long for the space: there is therefore a small circular chunk cut out of the original wall, so as to fit the sculpture. The sculpture, extravagant even by the standards of the cathedral, was used on a Maltese £.2/6 stamp in 1956.
Cotoner continued the work of his late brother Rafaello, also Grand Master of the Order, on the cathedral of St John in Valletta, and it was under him that much of its current opulence was completed.
Gabriele Carelli was one of a family of artists renowned in their native Italy and became the best-known member of the artistic dynasty in England. He was born in Naples, the second son of the artist Raffaele Carelli, a member of the School of Posilippo. Like his elder brother Consalvo, he studied first under his father, before moving (with his brother) to Rome to continue his studies.
He returned to Naples after several years in Rome and made a successful start to his career, with a studio at Largo del Vasto, close to his father’s own studio. Gabriele’s father had been patronised by William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, since the 1830’s and had travelled with him on tours of Sicily (in 1834) and Asia Minor (1839). In 1847, Cavendish engaged the younger Carelli and brought him back to England as his personal painter. Carelli spent time on the Devonshire estates, painting the gardens and architecture, working in watercolours (unlike his father who had specialised in oils).
Carelli returned to Italy in late 1847 and partook in a failed nationalist revolt against the Bourbons, avoiding capture thanks to his father’s efforts to hide him and the younger son Achille in his studio. Gabriele avoided controversy despite this and continued to work in Naples for the next several years, falling under the influence of the Belgian artist Frans Vervloet, who had joined the Posilippo School and was working in Naples. From around 1860 onwards Gabriele spent more time in England, developing a distinguished list of clients there who employed him to paint their houses and lands.
He moved entirely to England in 1866, settling in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, and continued to use his address there until 1883. He kept rooms in London at various addresses, and married and Englishwoman in 1868, with whom he had a son, Conrad, who would grow up to become a watercolourist like his father. Carelli appears to have been somewhat kept out of British artistic circles despite his popularity and impressive list of clients. He was unsuccessful in his candidature to the N.W.S. in 1866; although he exhibited four works at the Royal Academy and exhibited elsewhere in Liverpool and Manchester. His exhib