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Mount Vesuvius dominates the landscape around Naples. The volcano was extraordinarily active in the eighteenth century, with eruptions (most relatively minor) almost every year. Travelers would have seen a plume of smoke emanating from the crater, as depicted in Cooper’s watercolor. Cooper, the son of an engraver and watercolorist, made a pilgrimage to Italy in the 1770s. Like most tourists, he spent most of his time in Rome and Naples.

The monastery depicted in this watercolor is probably the church of San Michele Arcangelo, which sits on a hill at the foot of Vesuvius. This part of the Vesuvian region became known as the Miglio d’oro (Golden Mile) in the eighteenth century after Neapolitan nobility, inspired by the discoveries of nearby Herculaneum and Pompeii, constructed about two hundred villas in the area. Well-connected travelers were often entertained at these country retreats, which were surrounded by farmland and vineyards in the eighteenth century.

Richard Cooper II
Scottish, 1740–after 1814
Brown ink and watercolor on paper
Image/sheet: 14 3/16 x 25 5/16 in. (36.0 x 64.2 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 70.31