George Loring Brown - Bay of Naples
George Loring Brown (1814-1889), American
Bay of Naples (View of Naples from the Sea), 1853/1873
OIL ON CANVAS
27 1/2 x 41 1/2 inches
Gift of Horace Fairbanks
George Loring Brown’s depiction of the Bay of Naples portrays an early phase of the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius during ancient Roman times in 79 C.E. Like Luigi Bazzani's rendering of life in the city of Pompeii before its destruction, Brown’s painting illustrates nineteenth-century fascination with the tragic event. Italy's enduring appeal for American artists such as Brown derived in no small part from its long and rich history, which fascinated visitors from the youthful United States.
Brown's version of Vesuvius' eruption portrays an ancient quadrireme, or galley, laden with figures fleeing the disaster. The volcano's intact profile shows that the main eruption, when the peak itself exploded, has not yet occurred. The scene evokes Pliny the Younger's eyewitness description of the event and how his father had rushed off by boat to help save the people trapped in the path of destruction. Because of Pliny's historic account, such apocalyptic eruptions are known today as "Plinian," a description applied to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980.