Uncovering Italy’s Superlatives in people, places and things

Painting the Bay of Naples

La bella Napoli

Those who have spent a bit of time in Naples know that every self-effacing Neapolitan nonna has a reproduction of the classic Gulf of Naples gouache in her dining room. You know the one the dramatic rise of Mt. Vesuvius standing forebodingly in the background, the sun-kissed Mediterranean sea hugging up against the distant city landscape of Naples, the light cast just so according to the time of day – sunrise, midday, sunset — all framed by the emerald beauty of the countryside and perhaps a few cheery townspeople dressed in traditional garb in the foreground.

Painting The Grand Tour

A little kitsch, never cliché, the Neapolitan gouaches can be traced back to 18th and 19th centuries when the opaque watercolour depictions of coastal Naples were a hot commodity for European aristocrats who traveled to the Mediterranean city to experience cultural, artistic and architectural pleasures. This was the epoch known as the Grand Tour, when Europe’s upper crust immersed themselves throughout the bel paese and Naples, in particular, thanks to the city’s invaluable heritage of monuments, art collections and landscapes envied and praised by illustrious personalities such as Montesquieu, Goethe, Lamartine, Stendhal and Dickens.

Naples and the Neapolitan school of gouache flourished during the Grand Tour in the 17th- and 18th. The city, and its stunning Vesuvius, represented an antiquity lost and a world to discover. Nobility craved these prestigious European landscape paintings, in particular Bay of Naples scenes detailing the coastal panorama, the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, the monuments and discoveries of Herculaneum and Pompeii.

Neapolitan gouache

The 19th century engraver and painter Filippo Hackert is considered the father of the Neapolitan gouaches. Invited by Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, Hackert taught Johann Wolfgang von Goethe how to paint, while the author penned his famous diary Viaggio in Italia. Hackert was using gouache, an opaque watercolour made of natural pigment, water, a binding agent and a secret the artist wouldn’t tell. From a distance, gouache paintings seem almost like oil, but upon close inspection, a gouache takes on a rich translucency.

Ignasi x ISSIMO x Dedar

Fast forward two hundred years and Neapolitan gouaches are making a contemporary comeback, thanks to a fresh collaboration between ISSIMO, famed Italian interior design brand, Dedar Milano and one of the world’s most talented emerging artists, Ignasi Monreal. How did this glamorous ménage-à-trois come about one asks? It all began at an old print stall at the antiquarian market in Rome’s Piazza Fontanella Borghese.

After finding an original print of a Neapolitan gouache at the market, Marie-Louise immediately framed it and hung the print in Mezzatorre’s reception and then began adding to the collection.  Original Neapolitan gouaches are found throughout the reception and property’s guest rooms. In addition to her gouache penchant, Marie-Louise has always had a fascination for trompe l’oeil in particular the trompe l’oeil rooms of the Vatican and Villa Farnesina. For years, Marie-Louise has been wanting to recreate an optical illusion of a tented “landscape room” using a gouache-like wallpaper of the scene of the Gulf of Naples.

Combining Ignasi’s incredible skill at reinterpreting traditional painting techniques of Dedar’s luxurious fabric design, ISSIMO’s one-of-a-kind wallpaper was created. The wallpaper features five custom designed panels with digital interpretations of Dedar’s striped fabrics in the trompe l’oeil technique, a nod to the tented rooms of Italy’s oldest palazzos and the Vatican, and a centre panel presenting Ignasi’s digital version of the Neapolitan gouache scene depicting the Gulf of Naples.

Golfo di Napoli wallpaper is available in 15-meter rolls weighing 1.5 kg. Original Dedar Milano fabric is also sold separately.

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