Giacinto Gigante was born in Naples in 1806 and began studying painting under his father’s wing around 1818. Two years later, he began to frequent the studio of the German painter Huber, together with Achille Vianelli, and worked at the Royal Topographical Office, where he deepened his study of etching and lithography, producing his first watercolour drawings.
Precisely because he was a pupil of Huber’s, his views initially responded to classical canons and were undoubtedly produced with the aid of the camera obscura. But from 1822, when he began to frequent the studio of Antoon Sminck van Pitloo, Gigante opened up to a new conception of landscape, based essentially on the study from life.
The Posillipo School
Lake Lucrino dates back to 1824, an oil painting that marks the real beginning of his flourishing career and his fundamental contribution to the change in Neapolitan landscape painting.
1826 saw him stay in Rome and study at the atelier of the German watercolourist Wolfenberger, where he further explored the chromatic and interpretative freedom provided by the medium of watercolour. In the same year, he participated in his first Bourbon Biennale with Veduta della marina di Sorrento, Veduta dell’Anfiteatro di Pozzuoli, Veduta del Colosseo and Veduta dell’interno di un edificio con S. Onofrio. In the late 1920s, he collaborated on the illustration of Viaggio pittorico nel Regno delle due Sicilie (Pictorial Journey in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies).
While in the mid-1830s he met the Russian painter Sçedrin with whom he formed a lasting friendship that, over time, would procure Gigante numerous commissions from Russian collectors and aristocrats. The watercolour La villa di Chiaia with Pizzofalcone and Vesuvius from Palazzo Esterhazi dates back to 1839, one of the views that represents Gigante’s true contribution to the Neapolitan landscape. A luminous and loose chromatism makes him one of the main interpreters of the Posillipo School, doing justice to the view from life, far removed from predefined and academic stylistic features and rich instead in experimentation and new ideas.
Naturalism, the study of colour and light
Naturalistic studies were further developed by Gigante when, as a refuge from the anti-Bourbon uprisings of 1848, he moved to Sorrento for a period. Here he devoted himself to the study of botanical species and above all to the deepening of his personal interpretation of colour and light.
On his return to Naples, he was appointed painting teacher to the princesses, daughters of Francis I of Bourbon, and was made a knight of the Royal Order. He had the opportunity to travel among the various Bourbon villas and residences in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and was inspired by the different landscapes, resulting in studies and paintings such as The Royal Villa of Ischia, The House of Coloured Capitals, The Baths of Pompeii, The House of Castor and Pollux.
This series of views of Pompeii is realised with an unprecedented chromatic sensitivity and freedom of interpretation that also returned in the creation of interior views. After the Unification, Victor Emmanuel II commissioned him to paint The Chapel of the Museum of San Gennaro in Naples Cathedral in 1863.
In his last years, the painter devoted himself to arranging his drawings, enriched with personal notes. After his death in 1876, his paintings continued to appear at Italian exhibitions: ten works were exhibited at the 1903 Biennial, including Una via di Pompei, Coro di un monastero napoletano, Gruppo di contadine, Un’antica casa di Napoli. Other landscapes that appeared at the 1926 Biennial were Ville d’Amalfi, Porta di Capua, Salita ai Camaldoli, Interno della Chiesa di Santa Chiara, Cava dei Tirreni, Castellamare vista dal Convento, Loggia a Capri and Duomo di Napoli.