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 is a recently re-discovered sketch 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 exhibition pieces were based on sketches made on regular and extensive journeys across Britain and Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

 

Following one such tour, to Spain in 1879-1880, Carelli was brought to the attention of Queen Victoria by her Lady-in-Waiting, Lady Waterpark. The Queen was a fervent collector and diligent amateur watercolourist, who patronised numerous artists throughout her long reign with an engagement and taste not seen for generations in the British monarchy. She purchased a number of works from Carelli and commissioned him to record the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore House, the results of which can be found in the Royal Collections Trust (the finest of which, showing the interior, is Inv. No. RCIN 919746).

 

Over the course of his career Victoria purchased more than twenty-five works by Carelli, as well as supporting his son Conrad at the beginning of his career – which would suggest more than the usual bond between patron and artist. Carelli purchased a summer home in Menton, on the French Riviera, and retired there towards the end of his life.

 

Among the clients he had worked for during his long and fruitful career he could number the 1st Duke of Westminster, the aforementioned Duke of Devonshire, the Emperor of Russia and Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies (despite Carelli’s anti-Bourbon sympathies) among numerous others. The Royal Collections still hold a number of his works, at Osborne House and Windsor, as well as the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Royal Institute of British Architects. 

Bibliography:

Francis, Lord Napier - Notes on Modern Painting at Naples - J.W. Parker, London, 1855 - pp.121-125

 E. M. Eleuteri, I Carelli una generazione di pittori, Roma 1980

C. Juler, Les Orientalistes De l'Ecole Italienne, 1994, pp.46-48

GABRIELE CARELLI (1820-1900)

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