Medium: Oil On Paper Laid On Canvas
Size: 50 x 30 cm
Signed: and dated lower right: J.ph Bidauld.1788 Inscribed on the reverse: Bidauld ville de Salerne 1788; Vue de la Ville de Salerne dans le/ Royaume de Naples - 1788
Private Collection, France
Salerno lies nestled along the mountainous shore, a perfect maritime haven situated some thirty miles south of the city of Naples, capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The original Roman colony at Salerno was founded in 197 BC on the site of an Etruscan settlement. It became the capital of an independent principality that fell to the Normans in the late 11th century. After being sacked by Hohenstaufen troops in 1194, it recovered its independence; Guglielmo di Procida, hero of the Sicilian Vespers, was governing it a century later as a semi-independent vassal state of the Kings of Naples. The great Roman Princes Orsini and Colonna later gained possession, until the city and its dependencies were fully incorporated into the Neapolitan Kingdom in the sixteenth century.
Bidauld’s viewpoint is taken from the Torre di Badia, which lies at the end of a point half way between Salerno and the ancient city of Amalfi. This is attested to in a small oil sketch by Augustin Enfantin (1793-1827), in which the younger painter has chosen a more distant view, including the ruined tower with some fishermen on the beach that dominates the foreground space. The artist is looking down at the water that stretches towards the distant view of the city, intersected only by a long pier at which a lone sailing vessel is moored, while two small fishing boats can be seen coming towards the viewer. The campanile of the Cathedral of Saint Matthew (whose body is supposed to be buried in the crypt), was rebuilt at the end of the eleventh century by the Norman Prince Robert Guiscard, and can be seen in the centre of the city, providing a focal point for the composition. The acute angle of the light on the few buildings it catches suggests that this work was done towards in the late afternoon, and, coming from such a southerly point, that it was probably painted in the winter months. The clarity of the buildings and the warm light on the tree-tops at left are typical of Bidauld, who himself identified the view, and the year, on the back of the canvas. The date and time at which he painted has prevented him from using the characteristic stratified levels of shadow and light to define the perspective that we so often see in his Italian views. Instead the glassy surface of the water provides the necessary contrast with the meticulously painted buildings and trees covering the hillside at left. The larger hill at the southern end of the city lies in shadow, while the distant but rising mountains beyond are shown in lighter, bluish tones painted in a freer style, contrasting with the details of the city below. The light, fluffy clouds drifting across the soft grey-blue sky are still warmed by the sun that has already disappeared from the artist’s view.