JAKOB PHILIPP HACKERT (Prenzlau 1737 - 1807 San Pietro di Careggi)

Born in Prenzlau in the Margraviate of Brandenburg (now in Germany) on September 15, 1737, Jakob Philipp Hackert was taught by his father, the portrait painter Philipp Hackert (d. 1768). Unlike his father, who specialised in portraiture and animal painting, Jakob made his mark in landscape painting, a genre introduced to him by Blaise Nicolas Le Sueur, the head of the Berlin Akademie. Studying with Le Sueur he encountered Dutch 17th century landscape painting and the art of Claude Lorrain, which would be lifelong influences on his art.

Deeply invested in studies of nature drawn from the surrounding areas of Berlin and supported by his admirers, Hackert left Berlin in 1762 for a study tour in northern Germany, where he was a guest of Adolph Friedrich von Olthoff, the Swedish councillor in Pomerania. In 1764 Hackert accompanied Baron van Olthoff to Rügen and Stockholm, whom presented Hackert at court. In 1765 Hackert went to Hamburg, and soon after to Paris, where there was a growing demand for the kind of landscape developed by Dutch painters. He modelled his work closely on the most famous exponent of this genre, Jean-Claude Wille, and focused on small gouache paintings, which were well suited to contemporary taste. He arrived to Rome in 1768, and absorbed the already rich and complex cultural experience pioneered by Anton Raphael Mengs and the famous art historian, Johann Joachim Winckelmann.  By 1770, Hackert had proven his abilities in the extensive works he produced at the request of Lord Hamilton in Naples. Subsequently in Rome, the Russian Count Ivan Ivanovich Shvalov (1727 – 1797), founder of the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg commissioned Hackert to immortalise the victories of the Russian fleet over the Turks in July 1770 with two paintings illustrating the main episodes of battle.  On his return to Naples in 1774, he was able to watch and draw sketches of the volcanic scenes of Vesuvius as it erupted. From there, he travelled to Ravenna via the central Italian mountains, where he painted Pope Pius VI's birth place of Cesena and thus received the permission to stay in Rome for a prolonged period of time. Nevertheless, his career remained peripatetic, as he travelled to Sicily in 1777 and Northern Italy and Switzerland in the following year.

Owing to his growing success, in early 1782 Hackert attracted the attention of King Ferdinand IV of Naples, who appointed him Court Painter; however, he was soon forced to flee to the city to Palermo in order to escape the French occupying forces. In the following year, ever-growing civil unrest brought Hackert to Tuscany, where he remained for the rest of his life. There, his brother Abraham had settled down by setting up a shop for copperplate engraving and owned a country house. Jakob Philipp Hackert died in Florence on April 28, 1807. Despite his very large oeuvre, he had never painted his hometown of Uckermark.

In 1787 Johann Wolfgang van Goethe was in Rome and immediately called upon the Neapolitan court painter and real master Jakob Philipp Hackert to become his teacher. Indeed Hackert established his own school, propounding his ideas about landscape painting to engravers including his brother brother Georg Hackert and W. G. Gmelin (c. 1760–1820), and such painters as Christopher Kniep (1755–1825), Michael Wutki (1738–1822), and the Neapolitans Vincenzo Aloja ( fl 1790–1815) and Salvatore Fergola (1799–1874), all of whom assisted in disseminated his ideas and compositions, and thereby increasing his reputation as a leading landscape painter of Rome.

During their 13 years in Rome, Hackert and Goethe became very close friends; their friendship is vital for the identification of Hackert’s oeuvre, and for the Lampronti painting in particular. Indeed, Geothe recorded the piece in his diary as View of the Port Salerno, from Vietri. Dated 1797, this spectacular View most probably belongs to the series of large paintings depictingThe Ports of the Kingdom that were painted by Hackert for King Ferdinand IV of Naples before he his escape to Florence 1799. As Goethe, his friend and biographer, records, when the French invaded Naples there were three paintings of harbour scenes in Hackert’s studio; he was only able to save these works by protesting that he had not received payment for them and, therefore, they were still his property and not that of the King.  As suggested by this vital piece of documentary evidence, this picture is almost certainly the ‘Port de Salerne’ listed in the inventory of Hackert’s estate at his house in San Pietro di Carreggi, just outside the gates of Florence, where the artist died in 1807.  Moreover, its survival attests to the personal significance the Lampronti painting possessed to the painter, Jacob Philipp Hackert.

In summarising the skills of the artist, Goethe concluded that Hackert had an ‘...unglablische Meisterschaft, die Natur abzuschreiben’; [an amazing ability to capture nature]. This is demonstrated by the present painting, which marries the idyllic and pastoral countryside typical of Claude Lorrain, together with Hackert’s microscopic attention to detail particularly in the flora and fauna, which originated from his early studies on nature. One only needs to focus attention on the recognisable trees of Vietri sul Mare to find a testament to his ability to faithfully record his geographical surroundings as a true explorer of a new place. Beyond the vista, the port of Salerno unveils on the far left of the Amalfi coast, illustrating a harbour scene where shipping vessels dock while other sail with raised flags of the Kingdoms, deep into the expansive and distant plane. Thus, the scene not only bears witness to his interest in the study of nature, also to his ability to record the Kingdom in all its glory, a political statement most probably requested by King Ferdinand IV of Naples.

Hackert is forever revered for his influential ideal landscapes, which arguably became popular thanks to his astute decision to foster a career in Rome, where he was able to become one of the most popular landscape painters of the 18th century. 

The Port of Salerno from Vietri, with herdsmen and other figures in the foreground, with the Castello di Arechi beyond and shipping vessels in the bay

Oil on canvas, 135.7 x 221.6 cm
Inscribed, signed and dated Porto di Salerno / Filippo Hackert dipinse 1797 (lower centre)

(Probably) painted for King Ferdinand IV of Naples (1751-1825), and later listed in the inventory of the artist's estate, 1807, no. 1, as 'Port de Salerne'.

C. Nordhoff and H. Reimer, Jakob Philipp Hackert 1737-1807: Verzeichnis seiner Werker, Berlin, 1994, p. 131, no. 272.

Comparative literature
F. Mancini, Philip Hackert alla corte di Napoli (1782-1799), Napoli 1992;
A.Mozzillo, Gli approdi del Sud, I porti del Regno visti da Philip Hackert (1789-1793), Lecce 1993.