Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • The Bay of Naples
ca. 1781/03
Pencil, pen and grey ink, watercolour
  • image width 255mm,
  • image length 469mm
two sheets of paper
mounted by the artist
  • sheet, recto, lower left
  • “No19 / Francis Towne delt.”
  • in brown ink
  • artist's mount, verso
  • “No19 Bay of Naples / Francis Towne / delt 1781”
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Author's examination of the work


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), who gave it in 1818 to the present owner, the British Museum (Nn.3.5).

Associated People & Organisations

British Museum
James White (1744 - 1825)
Exhibition History
In the Shadow of Vesuvius, Accademia Italiana, London, 1990
Light, time, legacy: Francis Towne’s watercolours of Rome, British Museum, 2016
Laurence Binyon, Catalogue of Drawings by British Artists and Artists of Foreign Origin Working in Great Britain Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, Trustees of the British Museum: London, 1907, p. 202
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 127


This is a west-looking view of the Palazzo Donn’Anna, the ruin of an unfinished 1640s’ palace intended for Donn’Anna Carafa, wife of the Duke of Medina, Spanish viceroy. The ruin is on the coast at Posillipo and was a well-known and often depicted landmark during the eighteenth century. What is interesting about this picture, though, is not so much what is featured, but what is excluded, because just out of the picture on the right side stands Villa Emma, Sir William Hamilton’s Posillipo residence (although it was probably not so named until after 1786). John Robert Cozens, William Pars, “Warwick” Smith, Pietro Fabris, Claude-Joseph Vernet, Saviero della Gatta and Louis Ducros all depicted the Villa Emma in their work and it is impossible that Towne would have been unaware of the villa’s famous occupant, especially as he had an audience with Hamilton.1 Possibly it was once part of a more substantial view of the coast that did include Villa Emma. Towne frequently organised his compositions around a prominent mid-ground feature in the centre and, if the palace ruins serve that function in this case, that would also argue that a further right-hand portion, comprising the foreground, may once have existed.

Despite the unconvincing addition of rocks protruding from the water in the foreground of the picture, Towne was clearly in a boat some way from the shore when he made his drawing. If anything can be read into the dark shadow on the Palazzo Donn’Anna, Towne was drawing in the afternoon. The rocks are part of the additions Towne made to the drawing long after 1781 and probably in the 1790s or early 1800s.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Ian D. Jenkins and Kim Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and his Collection, British Museum Press: London, 1996, pp.130–38, 170.

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