As with many of the Monro School drawings of Italian scenes, it has not been possible to trace the precise source for this view looking towards Vesuvius and a convent that has hitherto been identified as that of San Salvatore above Portici. But, as generally seems to have been the case, it is very likely to have been a sketch made by John Robert Cozens (1752–97) on one of his visits to Naples, either in 1777 or in 1782–83. An early watercolour by Cozens of essentially the same view (see figure 1) is close enough to this composition to establish beyond reasonable doubt that a lost sketch from the earlier trip was the source here. The Cozens source is also partly confirmed by the existence of an anonymous Monro School copy that has until recently been attributed to Cozens himself (see figure 2), and it was from this copy that the work discussed here acquired its misleading title, identifying the location as Portici (Baker, 2011, p.85). The building shown in all three watercolours is the substantial early eighteenth-century church dedicated to St Michael the Archangel (buried following the 1784 eruption of Vesuvius), with the convent of the Camaldolese religious order to the left. The building is situated on the slopes above Torre del Greco, and this is further south along the coast from Portici, where Cozens stayed in 1782–83; the viewpoint consequently offers a quite different perspective of Vesuvius from the standard view from Naples or along the coast.
The bulk of the Monro School copies sold at Monro’s posthumous sale in 1833 were attributed to Turner alone, and, despite the pioneering article published by Andrew Wilton in 1984, which established the joint authorship of many of the works in the Turner Bequest, others (such as this example) continue to be credited to Turner alone (Wilton, 1984a, pp.8–23). The work is currently known to me only as a photograph, but, although it is consequently impossible to be sure about the issue, I have not seen any clear evidence that Turner was responsible for the pencil work in addition to the washes. In other words, I am inclined to take the two artists’ account (as described to Farington in 1798) of the division of their labour in the production of the Monro School copies literally, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary, and I think the burden of proof lies with those who suggest that Girtin was not involved in a work’s production, rather than vice versa.