Mongrassano 1859 — 1941 Naples

Very Old Buildings in Naples

oil on linen. 12 3/8 x 19" (48.5 x 32cm) signed, l/r. Rubens Santoro and also on the verso of the linen.

Rubens Santoro was born in Calabria where he studied briefly under his father and then, while still a boy, he left for Naples. There he enrolled at the Academy but soon quit, realizing that working from life was how he wanted to proceed. Both Domenico Morelli and Mariano Fortuny took note of the young artist and encouraged him, Fortuny stating that it took him years to unlearn what he had been taught at the Academy and that Santoro was precocious in his decision to choose a different approach. With life as his model, Santoro developed and thrived. His views of Naples and its surrounds as well as those of Venice were much appreciated. He visited North Africa where he produced paintings of Arab street life and singular studies of its exotic inhabitants. He could paint dazzling sunlight, revealing a day of pristine atmosphere, while simultaneously divulging nuances of regional architecture. His vistas were stunningly depicted especially those of the Bay of Naples and its coasts. Interestingly, he was commissioned by Colnaghi to paint works for Isabella Stewart Gardner.

I know of at least one painting by Santoro in which buildings such as those depicted here serve as a backdrop to a group of women seated outside, sewing. But I do not pretend to know if our painting was intended as a study for it. Afterall, since Thomas Jones at the end of the 18th c. executed works of pared-down architectural subjects devoid of inhabitants yet perfectly calabrated so that they were finished works of art, a few other painters, tried to do the same. To present day taste, this simplicity is very appealing.