A re-post (edited) from Dec 6, 2014, by Schteve
Vesuvio in Southern Italy (and alarmingly close to the huge conurbation of Naples) has been dormant since 1944. It was not always so quiet; as well as numerous and sometimes hugely devastating eruptions documented since 79 AD, the last 285 years have seen significant eruptions in: 1631, 1660, 1682, 1694, 1698, 1707, 1737, 1760, 1767, 1779, 1794, 1822, 1834, 1839, 1850, 1855, 1861, 1868, 1872, 1906, 1926 and 1929 and 1944. There have been few periods of actual dormancy and these have been mostly short lived, the repose since 1944 is the longest since before the major eruption of 1631….
The following images are of eruptions between 1760 and 1868; chosen by me entirely based on what I like. I have included some basic information about each event, courtesy of: http://www.volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=211020 but it’s important to remember that some of these images will be more realistic than others. Many of the paintings are of the Romantic type and some will have been painted from imagination and/ or based on earlier works. Each artist is shown only once though some of them, notably Volaire and Wright, painted multiple pictures of the subject.
This depicts the November 1744 to January 1761 eruptive period, which reached VEI 3 and affected the summit, upper south eastern, eastern and southern flanks. The painting increases the impact by depicting Vesuvius closer to Naples than it really is.
Volaire made a career in Italy executing souvenir pictures for English travelers doing the ‘Grand Tour’: during the 18th century, English gentlemen (wealthy ones) would do an extended sojourn through Europe to admire classical ruins, picturesque landscapes, and artistic masterpieces. Volaire painted more than thirty scenes of Mt. Vesuvius. The painting contrasts the moods of nature; the cool, calm water reflecting moonlight and fire is juxtaposed to the violent explosion and fiery terror. Along the bridge he includes references to St. Januarius, protector of Naples from volcanic destruction: from left to right are a statue of the saint, a fleeing townsman holding an image of the saint toward the mountain, and people praying before a drawing of the holy figure posted to a stone pier. Source: https://learn.ncartmuseum.org/artwork/the-eruption-of-mt-vesuvius/
In 1779 Wutky had climbed Vesuvius to observe closely the violent eruption. His drawings were later executed as large-scale paintings.
More had witnessed an eruption of Vesuvius in 1779. Here, he reconstructs the eruption of 79AD and the destruction of Pompeii, in the foreground he included the death of Pliny the Elder. (Source: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/5205/mount-vesuvius-eruption)
Joseph Wright apparently never witnessed a full-on eruption of Vesuvius, although he may have seen some minor activity when he visited Naples in 1774, the year of this painting. This did not stop him making around 40 paintings of her imagined eruptions. It must have been a useful money spinner, at a time when aristocrats who had made the Grand Tour simply had to have a painting of Vesuvius as a souvenir. This period of eruption began in February 1770 and ended in October 1779 and was an estimated VEI 3 affecting the summit, north, north east, south east and eastern flanks. The dominant feature of this pre-romantic painting is the orange light which banishes the night and captures the eye.
This article would not have been complete without Turner’s rendition of an eruption, whilst somewhat impressionistic, he captures the awesome power and wonderful colours brilliantly, there are even hints of volcanic lightning. The eruptive period shown here began in January 1796 and ended in November 1822, it affected the summit and upper flanks and reached an estimated VEI 3. Turner brings out the chaos coming from the explosive light. The rumbling volcano overwhelms the population. Some run in fear, others stand still and watch in fascination.
This is not a painting, but a drawing by a geologist. This was at the end of the eruptive period 1797-1822, after which Vesuvius took a short beak.
This image shows the eruptive period of July 1824 to November 1834 which affected the summit, the upper eastern and southern flanks. Dahl’s painting contrasts the smoke and lava from the volcanic eruption with the peaceful coast. It gives the sense of the imminent destruction of an idyllic location.
This image is quite different in style and appears to be painted in watercolours, lovely in the way he has seemingly captured the plume so accurately. It depicts the eruptive period of January 1835 to January 1839. Affected areas were the summit, upper eastern and western flanks, VEI 3.
This again shows a somewhat different style to many of the earlier works, appearing a little more abstract, however he has still captured a convincing image of the lava and plume. This shows the eruptive period February 1864 to November 1868 which affected the summit and the upper south eastern flank. Bierstadt is best known for his landscape paintings of the American West, and there is an impression of the Sierra Nevada (US, not the Spanish orginal) in this painting. The use of light was an important aspect of his paintings.
This illustrates a generic eruption, clearly based on earlier works by other artists, however Monte Somma is well realised and the lava fountain is impressively dynamic. It is one of an edition of several hundred, and this version seems to be the one in the Capodimonte museum in Naples (well worth a visit!). I had never been a fan of Warhol’s art, but I absolutely fell in love with this.
I hope that the images have captured your imagination and helped bring to life one of the world’s most dangerous and beautiful volcanoes.
Schteve. (edited by Albert)
Recommended reading: “Vesuvius A Biography” by Alwyn Scarth. ISBN 9781903544259.
Volcanocafe articles: Vesuvius in retrospect