Giacinto Gigante, Untitled [View of a Bridge over a Gorge at the Villa Floridiana, 1826, Ink wash over graphite on wove paper, 21.0 x 29.8 cm (support). Gift of Emanuel Laufer, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2016, with assistance from the Dr. S.T. Laufer and Mrs. Irmgard Laufer Endowment.

Gigante's Mechanical Eye: Views of 19th Century Naples

Saturday, 1 February 2020 to Sunday, 18 July 2021

Located in Gallery 7: John and Norma Oyler Gallery
Curated by Michael McCormack

Gigante’s Mechanical Eye: Views of 19th Century Naples focuses on a series of 11 landscape drawings using ink wash over graphite that were completed in 1826 during the early stages of the artist’s career as a landscape artist. These drawings were last exhibited publicly at the Mostra del Giardino Italiano in Florence in 1931. This series highlights Gigante’s ability to compose detailed landscapes of impressive views of Naples with accuracy and precision. With an emphasis on vantage point, perspective, and composition, they represent a point in Gigante’s artistic career when he began to receive wider recognition throughout Naples.

Characteristic of early Italian Classicism and Neoclassical work of the 19th century, Gigante and his contemporaries strived for realism, which was reflective of a time when many artists throughout Europe and North America used portable instruments such as the camera lucida to aid in the technical foundations of their work.

The technological instruments that were available to Gigante were also widely available to many artists throughout the world and had far-reaching impact on the composition of landscape painting during that time. The camera lucida became equally useful to people working in other disciplines who shared and adapted the use of this tool to their needs.


Born into a family of landscape painters, Giacinto Gigante (1806 – 1876) first studied with his father Gaetano while pursuing a career as a draughtsman and an engraver. In 1820, Gigante joined the studio of well-known German landscape painter Jakob Wilhelm Huber in Naples. It was here he learned to use the camera lucida to produce the initial sketches for his drawings and paintings. At this time, he gained experience with acid etching and lithography while working in the Topography Department of the Royal Printing Office in Naples. He then continued to study “plein-air“ landscape painting with Dutch painter Antoon Sminck Pitloo, leading to his first public exhibition in 1826 at the Museo Borbonico.

Gigante soon became widely recognized for his work that emphasized the views of Naples. He became leader of a group of Neapolitan landscape artists later known as the Scoula di Posillipo. Gigante eventually began to concentrate less on exterior scenic views and more on interiors, often of sacred spaces. He continued to take on a number of commissions by patrons, including the King of Italy, Vittorio Emmanuele II, and a number of Russian aristocrats living in Naples.