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GIOACCHINO LA PIRA (fl. 1839 – 1870)

GIOACCHINO LA PIRA (fl. 1839 – 1870)


Titled & signed verso
Gouache on paper
45 x 30 cm





La Pira was an Italian painter, active almost exclusively in Naples in the mid-19th century. He painted solely in gouache, like many of his fellow Neapolitan artists who catered to the burgeoning tourist trade in Naples, though he is one of the comparatively select few who rose above the anonymous mass of such artists. Such was his renown in this genre, he was mentioned in John Murray’s hugely popular A Handbook for Travellers in Southern Italy (from the 6th ed. onwards, London, 1869).

Like his peers, La Pira painted the more popular panoramas and genre scenes from Naples, Capri and along the Neapolitan coastline; however, it was his distinctive knack for dramatic lighting and freshness of atmosphere that distinguished him from his contemporaries, as the present work’s moonlight shows to powerful effect. Gioacchino, for whom there is very little in the way of documentary biographical evidence, is known to have been one of three artist-brothers. While we do not know his birth and death dates, no paintings dated after 1870 have been found, suggesting a rough terminus ante quem.



In the late sixteenth century, the monks of the Capuchin order founded a monastery-hermitage near a grotto in the rocky outcroppings overlooking the (then) small fishing village of Amalfi. As today, Amalfi had been a destination for holidaymakers since Roman times, and the picturesque monastery there attracted both tourists and religious pilgrims. The complex itself had been built at the beginning of the 13th century and was recorded in 1214 as a priory owned by Cistercian monks, before it became an abbey in 1223. In 1583 the monastery was entrusted to the Capuchin Friars who remained there for more than two centuries and carried out a vast restoration and reconstruction project. After the Friars were expelled in 1813, the complex was turned over to the Archbishop of Amalfi who first used it as a dining hall and later entrusted it to private parties which turned it into an inn. The community council of Amalfi converted it into a Nautical Institute in 1866. In 1885 the monastery became a hotel, and another series of transformations was initiated in order to meet the increasing tourism demand.

From the beginning of the 19th century onwards, views from the grotto were a staple in the repertoire of popular artists of the region, who used the rocky archway it provided as a highly effective framing device for picturesque views. La Pira used the subject and composition on a number of occasions, adjusting the moonlight and staffage to vary them.

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