Harbour with lighthouse and ships
Salvator Rosa (Naples 1615 - Rome 1673)
Together with its pendant, Harbour scene, the painting is one of the best known works by Neapolitan painter Salvator Rosa and the largest, with a base of almost four metres. The two canvases were among the first completed in Florence by the artist, the city to which he had been called to work by Prince Giovan Carlo de' Medici in 1640. Probably painted to honour the commissioner's appointment as Generalissimo of the Spanish Seas, the two large views originally adorned the main hall on the ground floor of the Casino degli Orti Oricellari in Via della Scala, a residence the prince had received as a gift from his brother, Grand Duke Ferdinand II. Giovan Carlo was Salvator Rosa's most important Florentine client; he paid him eight scudi a month plus the rent for a flat in the city until January 1648, receiving in exchange just under twenty works, described in the inventories of his residences.
To create the two views, Rosa spent a few days in Livorno, the Grand Duchy's largest port, to paint a realistic sketch of the ships moored there and to draw inspiration for the depiction of characters and episodes of seafaring life. The protagonists of the painting are in fact the Medici vessels on which the crews move and on whose masts a variety of flags fly, including those of the chivalrous order of Santo Stefano, instituted by Cosimo I de' Medici, which are characterised by a red cross on a white background.
The recent restoration makes it possible to appreciate how the morning light is cast on the profile of the coastline surrounding the stretch of sea in the roadstead, characterised by steep slopes and rocky cliffs. On the quayside and on the boats there are various characters busy doing maritime tasks or performing simple everyday activities, such as eating around a fire or rowing the small boats between the sailing ships. The human figures are drawn with quick brushstrokes and the liveliness typical of Bamboccianti painting, a trend well known to Rosa who had seen its results during his stay in Rome.